How broad is the canvas of God's love, how far the strokes of His grace? To what lengths does it reach, and can it be put aside? In its various forms, what is becoming known as "The Gospel of Peace" "Universal Reconciliation" "Realised Redemption" "The Gospel of Inclusion" "Comprehensive Grace" and what I shall refer to in this article as "Fulfilled Grace" views the panorama of God's Grace in Christ as boundless.
This study of 'Fulfilled Grace' will start with some basic definitions:
'Redemption': God's unilateral act in Christ of reconciling and restoring the relationship between Himself and His creation. Humanity in [because of] Christ has a renewed stance.
'Justification': God's declaration and conferring of the status of 'righteous' upon man – being put to the right with God – the result of the faith [faithfulness] of Christ in bringing redemption i.e., the forgiveness of sin.
'Salvation': God's deliverance – and is two-fold in application. Primarily, deliverance from the power and fear of sin-death, resultant in the assurance of redemption, so enabling the renewal of the mind. Secondary, deliverance from the coming temporal wrath of AD70.
"Unless a man is 'born again' he will not go to Heaven when he dies" – otherwise read as: "Unless a man is 'born again' he will be annihilated, or suffer eternal conscious torment in the fires of Hell" – that is how traditional evangelical Christianity has read and interpreted the 3rd chapter of John's Gospel. 'Fulfilled Grace' turns this notion on its head.
What Jesus actually said was one could neither "see" i.e., comprehend nor "enter" i.e., apprehend the Kingdom of God/Heaven as a present reality without the rebirth. In the Greek these injunctions are in the aorist tense, meaning: an action as having occurred, the results of which being past indefinite – Jesus was not pointing to some future state of being or to some future destination beyond the grave i.e., Heaven. He was pointing to the established standing or condition in God of having one's heart and mind opened up to know the reality of His presence in the 'here and now'. This is eternal life and is qualitative, not quantitative, it is relational, not spatial – as Jesus prayed:
Jn 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
1Jn 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. cf. Jn 20:31.
The outworking of this equates to the salvation of the soul and is not to be confused with Redemption – the reconciling of humanity to God. Salvation in this sense is the constant deliverance of the soul, the inner life, from that which obstructs fellowship with God – the constants of life that challenge us to change. This approach to understanding the salvation of the soul being thematic, as seen in the renewal of the inward man, the hidden man of the heart [2Cor 4:16; 1Pt 3:4; Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10; Tit 3:5].
Heb 10:39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
This, as opposed to the strict grammatical use where soul is indicative of the physical body or the totality of the person. cf. 1Thess 5:23. This aspect however is not to be ignored, as we again see the dual nature of this salvation, on the one hand in the covenantal sense i.e., deliverance from the 'Old World' of the Law, while on the other the temporal, tangible and quite literal physical escape from the forthcoming wrath-judgment of God that was occurring in that last days time frame AD30-70. Jesus said: "In your patience possess your souls." Lk 21:19. And: "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." Mt 24:13.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, was the unilateral act of God with absolutely no reference to the desires or wishes of man. For example, Israel was redeemed out of Egypt without their permission or consent. They were redeemed, period, whether they believed or not. Israel's redemption was not conditional upon their active response in faith, nor any act of repentance. They were elected by God in spite of themselves. Belief and obedience [active faith or faithfulness] certainly brought success and blessing, but these were built upon God's predetermined choosing of Israel. Without any "prayer of faith" or required "confession" corporate Israel as a whole, unbelieving and rebellious were redeemed.
Those who then realised [comprehended] the inestimable value of this great gift, in faith entered [apprehended] the Land i.e., salvation – the blessing of knowing His peace. We see a picture of the two-fold nature of restoration in Jesus' encounter with the 'ten lepers' of Luke 17:11-19 – all were healed and restored [reconciled], yet only one entered into the fullness [salvation] of this wholeness [reconciliation-redemption]. It was his faith that appropriated and grasped this blessing. In like fashion Jesus elsewhere said "go in peace, your faith has made you well" i.e., saved you. [Lk 7:50; 8:48].
Redemption can produce a believer, but believing cannot produce redemption. When were we reconciled – when we believed? No, but when we were dead in trespasses and sins.
Rom 5:10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
What then makes a believer? – revealed righteousness or required righteousness?
Rom 1:17 For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
Did the Law [required righteousness] make one a sinner? No – the Law only revealed a pre-existing condition of man's sin – revealed through his inability to walk uprightly.
Does the Gospel [revealed righteousness] make one righteous? No – the Gospel reveals the pre-existing condition of God's righteousness – revealed through the faithfulness of Christ, and puts out 'the call' and proclaims "come walk in it" – finding rest and peace for the soul – salvation, the assurance of redemption.
Although 'redemption' and 'salvation' are indelibly linked and often appear as interchangeable terms, there are important and significant differences between the two, and some crossover of thought occurs where either salvation or saved are used in the "global" sense, properly referring to 'redemption' – reflecting the essence of Divine deliverance. "Redemption" however is to be "brought back" – that's what God did in Christ, reconciled the world back to himself. "Salvation" in comparison is to be "brought into" – that which those who through belief in God through Christ appropriated – enter in faith.
Redemption enables us to find the Way of salvation which is in Christ alone. It is the work of divine Grace. If our believing could produce redemption then Jesus died in vain. Redemption, however, can produce belief – the working of repentance which is the turning of the mind and heart in thankfulness to God.
Salvation is the realisation, the revelation of mind and heart that knows I am loved and accepted by God, that knows all are loved and accepted by Him. The work then of salvation is that of assurance – the knowing that I have been restored unto God – accepted in the Beloved [Eph 1:6]. This knowledge of acceptance i.e., assurance is what multiplies grace and peace and works divine growth and transformation [2Pt 1:2-4].
Someone might say "if all be redeemed then why believe!?" Why? Because, as a 'believer' I know there is no conflict between me and God – the bondage of fear has been removed:
Heb 2:14-15 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. cf. 1Jn 4:18; 5:4.
Faith in Christ appropriates this saving of the soul this releasing from bondage, but this saving is not in a "next life" heavenly sense, no, this saving means the restoration of the inner life here and now – as King David prayed: "He restores my soul" [Psa 23:3] – this is the perpetual work of the Spirit i.e., sanctification – the maintaining of what has been eternally established. cf. Heb 10:14. This is the reality of being 'born again', the reality of 'salvation' – comprehending and apprehending the Kingdom. To not do so is NOT to be outside the Kingdom, but is to not fully appreciate or experience the blessings of it – for all are under His Domain [Act 17:26-29; Psa 24:1]. It is similar to that of illegal immigrants, not knowing the peace, security and assurance of the legal status of citizenry – hence subject to the bondage of fear.
'Fulfilled Grace' acknowledges this reality of a reconciled humanity in line with the Scriptures:
Gen 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed."
John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."
Has God by the life-giving faithfulness of Christ justified the nations?
Jn 1:9 That [Christ] was the true Light which, coming into the world, gives light to every man.
Jn 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin [the offence] of the world!
Jn 6:33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Has Jesus taken away the sin of the world by the sacrifice of himself, so bringing light and life i.e., redemption to every man? Or does "every" not mean that?
Jn 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Jn 12:32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."
Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
Did Jesus really draw "all" to himself, "tasting death" so that the world might be saved?
Rom 3:3-4a For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!
Jn 12:47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
1Tim 1:13 …although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
Rom 11:32-33 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
1Tim 2:4-6 …who [God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
Was God's mighty work and desire for humanity really hamstrung by unbelief, or was it the opportunity for the exercising of His great mercy?
Rom 5:15 But the free gift is not like the offence. For if by the one man's offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.
Rom 5:18-19 Therefore, as through one man's offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.
1Cor 15:21-22 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
Clearly "many" means "all" – and it was the soon coming Parousia that made and declared the many-all, righteous!
2Cor 5:14-15, 19 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. ...that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
1Tim 1:15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
Col 1:20 …and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
"having made peace" – was it a perfect or partial peace, how broad was Christ's world?
John 4:42 Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
1Jn 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world.
Tit 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.
1Tim 4:10 For to this end we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe.
1Jn 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
He is the Saviour of "all" men – especially the faith sanctified first-fruit saints.
The comprehensive scope of redemption for all is scripturally sound, and only our limited view of it causes us to do the following:
We have turned Jesus' statement "I am the way the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father but by me" into a conditional clause, making it a caveat for conversion. Jesus was, in fact, stating and declaring the actuality and centrality of his mission in redeeming and reconciling humanity back to God – it is because of Jesus alone that mankind is brought to God, through Jesus alone that we are able to come before Him; it was HIS work he was announcing not ours. We have erred and added to Jn 14:6 by turning it into a formula for faith.
This whole area of "faith" in the light of 'Fulfilled Grace' is quite interesting. It is the faith of Christ [faithfulness] that wrought redemption; it is faith in Christ that accesses salvation i.e., the active knowledge – assurance of our justification i.e., being declared by God "My people."
Much of what has been touted as our faith response to God is better understood as the faith response of Christ in his obedience to the Father i.e., his faithfulness. This is not discounting active faith on behalf of believers, for surely that is a given in Scripture e.g., Heb 11:6 and Gal 3:36 et al. There are however enough scriptures that place the onus of faith on Christ in his work of salvation – in the greater sense of that word. The following verses from the KJV reflect the Greek text better on this point. They all show the action of faith being on the part of Christ and NOT the believer, as is reflected in many modern translations:
Gal 3:22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
[Note: the promise – [Greek epangelia – επαγγελια] means assurance [Liddell & Scott] i.e., of redemption – so it is those that believe, that experience this promise or assurance, not unlike the "especially of those who believe" of 1Tim 4:10. Or as the apostle John wrote – that inner witness:
1Jn 5:10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.]
Gal 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Phil 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
Gal 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith [i.e., Christ's faithfulness], preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
Rom 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
All of the above focus on the work of Christ when viewed in line with the Greek text which runs true of Paul's words:
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Similar to "the just shall LIVE by faith" of Rom 1:17. The emphasis being not on the means, FAITH, but on the ends, LIVE i.e., the just shall live because of faith – the faith of Christ. Paul's from "faith to faith" being similar to his from "glory to glory" – as of by the Spirit of the Lord. 2Cor 3:18.
So what of the tenets of personal faith? – confession and believing. Paul said:
Rom 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Those who do not believe either through ignorance or arrogance still seek to justify themselves according to their own means of self-righteousness [Rom 10:3] – not being aware that their righteousness has been established through Christ. His justifying faithfulness restoring humanity unto God i.e., reconciliation – atonement [Rom 5:11]. One's faith response to this gains access into the arena of life, releasing the joy of salvation.
Rom 5:1-2 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The above verses show the dual nature of the workings of faith – both Christ's and the believer. Humanity having been justified by Christ's faith is at peace with God – from His perspective. Having come to belief i.e., faith, the believer, in turn, accesses by faith the grace in which because of Christ, humanity now stands [reconciled], and so rejoices and experiences the hope of glory. This is the difference between the 'righteousness of faith' as seen in following the Greek text as reflected in the KJV and YLT of Romans 3 – bringing redemption [man's state], and that of Romans 4 where Abraham's faith is credited to him for righteousness [the believer's standing], being brought into vital relationship with God i.e., salvation, the assurance of being reconciled, as Isaiah said: "This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD." Isa 54:17b.
The righteousness that was accredited to Abraham's account was just that, credit. Abraham was not righteous of his own accord, nor any prior to the work of Christ [Rom 3:10]. Abraham's faith did not secure him the condition [state] of righteous before God – his faith gained access to provisional righteousness [standing] i.e., it was "credited" or held in abeyance for him – not unlike credit card 'reward points' that are "credited" to one's account – not until later redeemed at maturity. The thrust of Scripture was that not until he was perfected with the rest of the saints would he have attained the state or condition of promised righteousness.
Heb 11:39-40 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. cf. Heb 11:13.
Gal 5:5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
We see further the provisional nature of this righteousness in the first-fruit saints of the "this generation" time frame AD30-70 from the literal reading of Paul in Romans 4:
Rom 4:23-24 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us [1Cor 10:11]. It is about to be [mello] imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. cf. Rom 3:26 regarding the demonstration of His righteousness at this present time.
That which had been accredited, or held in abeyance for those that believed was about to mature, was ready to be fulfilled in the Parousia of Christ – bringing in the age of righteousness 2Pet 3:13, thus bringing to fruition the outworking of their salvation [Phil 2:12] through Christ on behalf of the whole harvest, finding consummation in the resurrection.
Thus in Christ's Parousia provisional righteousness was fulfilled and complete, becoming the promised righteousness. So righteousness being established the promise to Abraham is fulfilled – all families of the earth blessed [Gen 12:3]; thus righteousness was established in Christ's Coming for all humanity.
So, the state of righteousness equates to the reconciliation of humanity – redemption [Rom 3] through the faithfulness of Christ. The standing in righteousness equates to salvation – the transforming of the soul [Rom 4], as exampled in Abraham – this is how "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" [Rom 4:3] is to be understood.
Further, Paul in Rom 10:6-8 is drawing on Deut 30, along with the subsequent passages dealing with the blessings and the curses of walking or not walking with God. Not walking with God does not nullify God nor make Him non-existent – it does, however, miss the divine goodness in more specific ways, though He is good to all [Lk 6:35].
Rom 10:9 …that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Seen in the first-fruit setting we have the dual sense of "being saved" from the coming wrath of AD70 – a frequent theme of Paul [Rom 1:18; 2:5-9; Col 3:6; 1Thess 1:10; 2:16; 5:9], and the ongoing transformative work of salvation – the deliverance from the willful desire to transgress [1Jn 3:6, 9]. This is evident from verse 10 where both "believes" and "confession" in the Greek are in the present continuous tense – not a one-time singular event as such, but a continuing reality, or as Paul says: "conversation" i.e., lifestyle.
Rom 10:10 For with the heart one [continually] believes unto righteousness [into being justified], and with the mouth [continual] confession is made unto salvation [into being saved].
Confessing and believing then, being expressions of faith make the pre-existing condition of righteousness effectual for the believer in that active faith taps into the blessing of righteousness [Gal 3:9]. But confession and belief do not establish righteousness – Christ's atoning work of obedience alone established righteousness.
Paul said: "we believe therefore we speak" 2Cor 4:13. Coming to the knowledge [belief] of the condition wherein Christ has already placed us [our state] [Rom 5:1-2] will bring with it the accompanying confession, this is redemption producing the believer [our standing], NOT vice versa. Just as confession is part of the outworking of salvation, so then, believing into righteousness is for righteousness' outworking, not the attaining of it – for the state of righteousness is imputed not according to our faith, but Christ's faith, and his alone. This verse is the only one in the entire New Testament where these two words believes and confession are rendered in the passive voice – hence into being justified/saved, being brought into the blessings of Redemption through the archway of faith – that which comprehends and apprehends [born again] God's Kingdom i.e., salvation – the transformation of the inner man, the saving of the soul. That is why …He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Heb 7:25.
To summarize: The biblical term "salvation" is as broad an expression as one can find in relation to the ministration of God's grace; however the turns of phrase to be saved or being saved must be understood as being descriptive of the subject to which it is being applied; and as explained above there are a number of different biblical aspects to what being saved means. Pertaining to REDEMPTION everyone IS saved, having been delivered from sin's offence – adjudged so by God i.e., reconciled. Likewise, just as humanity was not involved in the imputation of guilt through Adam's sin – adjudged so by God, so man was not involved with his redemption-reconciliation either, that was between God and Christ – man, however, was the recipient of it, the beneficiary.
Thus there was established through the Cross of Christ a broad all-encompassing unilateral and universal deliverance [Heb 9:26] – what we call salvation; it brought redemption-reconciliation TO the whole world – collectively. This redemptive and reconciling act of God, in turn, has the potential of bringing a personal deliverance – again, what we call salvation, to those OF the world – individually. Thus humanity truly IS already saved objectively [de jure – in principle, in law] and "in Christ" collectively, yet when one comes into a personal revelation of Christ's meritorious grace this salvation truly works subjectively [de facto – in reality] an apprehension, acceptance, appropriation and application of Christ's saving work, individually – and THIS IS the assurance of salvation.
This once for all delivering work of Calvary which brought humanity's corporate redemptive reconciliation, had and has nothing to do with man's personal individual belief system. However, the salvation that comes from this redemption is what is experienced in the life those who through personal faith in Christ embrace what Paul taught as – the renewing of the mind i.e., the saving of the soul. This in the stance of the believer is the veracity of belief and confession but does not change the status of humanity as being wholly, and in every respect before God and by His means alone, redeemed and reconciled.
Eph 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.