Most Christians – sincere as they may be in their beliefs - unknowingly hold to teachings which complicate, distort and outright contradict these fundamental facts of Paul’s gospel. Such popularly-believed doctrines – being firmly established in Christian tradition and deeply entrenched in the minds of many who hold to them - ultimately prevent people from being able to truly understand, and intelligently embrace, the simple truths of Paul’s gospel. But of all the gospel-contradicting doctrines believed by Christians, the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment”(i.e., “hell”) is, by far, the darkest, most disturbing doctrine ever to be believed in by human beings.
According to this doctrine, all who die without putting their faith in Christ will be forever lost, and must suffer an eternity of conscious torment (of both body and mind) with no hope of relief or deliverance. The general consensus among those who accept this doctrine seems to be that hell is a place where love, joy, peace, contentment and comfort will be entirely (and eternally) absent. Those in hell will be completely separated from everything that is conducive to human happiness and flourishing – not just temporarily (perhaps to be followed by annihilation), but consciously and forever.
As I noted earlier, the first element of Paul’s gospel is that Christ “died for our sins, according to the scriptures.”But what did Paul mean when he said that Christ died for our sins? It must mean something if we are called to believe it. As I hope to demonstrate, the answer to this question completely overthrows the ugly and nightmarish doctrine of eternal conscious torment. Based on Paul’s testimony in his letters, we can conclude the following: Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was the event by which the ultimate salvation of all persons from sin and death (and their ultimate reconciliation to God) was secured.
All will be justified and given life
It is in light of his understanding of the implications of Christ’s death for our sins that Paul was able to declare the following words of universal hope to the believers in Rome:
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
In this passage, the "one act of righteousness" (or "righteous act of one") and the "one man's obedience" (verses 18-19) are both undeniable references to Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. According to Paul, just as all humanity fell under condemnation because of the disobedience of the "first Adam," so all humanity will ultimately become the recipients of the life-giving grace secured by the obedience of the "last Adam." And in this way all people will experience "justification and life" and be "made righteous." Contrary to the opinions of some Christians, it is simply not possible to restrict either category of people in this passage. With regards to humanity, Paul was clearly thinking in all-inclusive terms. Just as all people were made sinners and condemned to death by the disobedience of Adam when he sinned in the garden, so all people will be made righteous as a result of the sacrificial death of Christ. Our becoming sinners under condemnation was a direct result of Adam's disobedience; no one chose to come into this world under condemnation. Likewise, everyone's being justified and made righteous will not be a result of their "free choice" but rather a direct result of Christ's obedience. The miraculous change that will take place when all who die in Adam are made alive in Christ (1 Cor. 15:22) will be the ultimate outcome of what Christ accomplished nearly 2,000 years ago.
Objection: "Paul uses the expression ‘the many’ in verses 15 and 19. Couldn’t this mean that Paul had in mind less than all humanity?"
Answer: The expression "the many" is being used by Paul to more effectively contrast Adam and Christ (both of whom are referred to as "the one," and whose actions had universal consequences) with the rest of humanity ("the many"), who were affected by their actions. This expression is clearly synonymous with "all men," as can be seen by comparing verses 15 and 19 with verses 12 and 18. In v. 12, we read that Adam's sin introduced death into the world, and that death spread to "all men." Then in v. 15 we're told that "many died" through Adam's offense. And in v. 18, we're told that one trespass (or the trespass of one) led to "condemnation for all men." Well, what is this condemnation if not the "death" referred to back in verses 12 and 15, which Paul says "the many" died through one man's trespass?
"For if many died through one man's trespass..." (v. 15)
"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men..." (v. 18)
Adam is "the one" whose act of disobedience negatively affected his descendents ("the many"). This category of persons is also referred to as "all men" in v. 18. In contrast to Adam, Christ is "the one" whose act of obedience positivity affects the same "many" negatively affected by Adam's sin. These are also referred to as "all men" in v. 18.
Objection: "In verse 17, Paul speaks of ‘those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.’ Couldn’t this be understood to mean that Paul is referring to a smaller, sub-category of people that is distinct from the rest of mankind (i.e., those who believe during this lifetime only)?"
Answer: If we look back to verse 12, it is clear that, according to Paul, the class of people over whom death exercises dominion includes all the human descendants of Adam (the only exception being Christ). And verses 15, 18, and 19 make it abundantly clear that, according to Paul, it is this class of people who are going to be justified, given life and made righteous. Moreover, we know that the "those" of v. 17 cannot be restricted only to those who were believing Paul’s gospel when Paul wrote his letter. Clearly, Paul anticipated people living after he wrote Romans being justified and made righteous! This being the case, v. 17 cannot be used to limit the number of those Paul has in mind in the next verses. Instead, v. 17 should be understood in light of what Paul says in verses 18 and 19. For Paul, "those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness" will ultimately include the entire human race. This is the ultimate outcome of Christ's "one act of righteousness."
Objection: "In v. 18, Christ's one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men only in the sense that it was merely made available to all men. It doesn't mean all men are actually going to be justified!"
Answer: Did Adam's trespass merely make condemnation "available to all men," or did it actually lead to all men being condemned? Clearly, it's the latter. And based on the parallel structure of what Paul says in these verses, consistency demands that we understand the second part of v. 18 in the same way (notice the words "as" and "so" in verses 18 and 19): Just AS one trespass led to condemnation for all men (it wasn't merely "made available" to them), SO one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. In each case, there is an action of one man having (or "leading to") universal consequences for "all men." And since verses 18 and 19 are clearly an example of the same thought being expressed in slightly different ways (a common literary device found in Scripture), it is evident that the "all men" of v. 18 who were condemned by Adam's trespass are "the many" of v. 19 who were made sinners by Adam's disobedience. In the same way, the "all men" of v. 18 who receive justification and life because of Christ's righteous act are "the many" of v. 19 who will be made righteous by Christ's obedience.
Objection: "Okay, well then how about this: "All men" doesn't really mean "all men." It means "all kinds of men" - e.g., both Jews and Gentiles.
Answer: Those who were made sinners and condemned because of Adam's sin were not merely "all kinds of men." And it's not merely "all kinds of men" who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). If "all" here doesn't mean "all" descendents of Adam (Christ excluded, of course) but rather "all kinds of men" then it would imply that there are some Jews and Gentiles (among the "all kinds of men") who were not made sinners, and have not fallen short of the glory of God. Since this is not the case, it follows that Paul meant "all men" when he said "all men."
All will be united in Christ
It would not be an exaggeration to say that, throughout world history, most people have lived and died in unbelief with regards to the saving work of Christ. But for Paul, this fact doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them, cannot save them, or has given up on them. It is unfortunate that so many people believe that there will be a permanent and eternal division between the members of the human family (i.e., a division between those who believe in Christ before they die, and those who don’t). It’s true that certain passages of Scripture are thought by many to support this common view. But while Scripture doesspeak of a division between people that has lasted (and which will continue to last) for a long, long time, it also reveals that, because of Christ’s death, the story of redemption is not going to end this way. Not only would this be a terrible and tragic ending to redemptive history, it would mean that God is either unable to accomplish his redemptive plan for all people, or that God is unwilling to save all people (and is thus less loving and merciful than he calls his own children to be). Fortunately, the final scene with which scripture provides us is much more hopeful and God-glorifying than this. Consider Paul’s words in Eph 1:9-10, which has been variously translated as follows:
“He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (NIV).
“…making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth…”(ASV)
"…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (ESV).
“He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth”(MSG).
Lest we think that God has kept his will regarding the goal of redemptive history a secret, Paul tells us that this mystery (a mystery which had been kept secret for thousands of years) has been made known to believers in his gospel. There is no secret, hidden, divine plan for the human race hiding behind what God has revealed to us; the truth is there to see for all who understand and believe Paul’s gospel. And what is the mystery of God's will? It is this: that “all things in heaven and on earth” will be brought to unity under (or “summed up in”) Christ. The Greek word variously translated as“unite in” (ESV), “summing up of,” (NASB), “bring unity to” (NIV), “gather together in one” (RSV) and “bring into one the whole”(YLT) is anakephalaiomai. It is found only here and in Rom. 13:9, where Paul speaks of the entire law being “summed up” in the commandment to love.
In these verses, Paul is essentially saying that redemptive history is moving toward one glorious goal: a universe in which all intelligent, image-bearing creatures (whether they are “in the heavens” or “on the earth”) will exist in perfect harmony with one another and (most importantly) in perfect harmony with God. Ultimately, the one who died and was roused for the sake of all is destined to “fill all things” (Eph 4:10).
All will be reconciled to God
In Colossians 1:15-20, we read:
15 He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things are created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things are created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
The “all things” that Paul has in view here which are to be reconciled to God refers to all sinful beings estranged from God – i.e., all beings that are in need of being reconciled to him. And the reconciliation of which Paul speaks is undoubtedly redemptive (or "salvific") in nature. The word Paul uses for "reconciliation" (apokatallasso) is used only three times by Paul: twice in Colossians, and once in Ephesians 2:16. Both in Col 1:22 and in Eph 2:16 the word refers to the bringing about of a harmonious relationship that had previously been characterized by estrangement and hostility. In Col 1:21-22 we read, “And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…” Just as believers were once “alienated and hostile in mind,” but are now reconciled to God, so the rest of humanity will ultimately be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ as well. The “blood of his cross” is the divine pledge of this future realization.
In 2 Corinthians 5 we read:
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
When Christ died on the cross, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. But how can this be, when so many people remain un-reconciled and estranged from God? In v. 19, Paul is using a figure of speech known as “prolepsis.” According to this figure of speech, something that is future is spoken of as though it has already taken place (or as if it were already present) in order to emphasize the certainty of its taking place. At this present time, we do not yet see the world reconciled to God or the sins/trespasses of all people not being counted against them. What was accomplished prospectivelythrough Christ’s death has not yet been fully realized in the universe.
Every knee will bow
Perhaps the most well-known glimpse of the ultimate outcome of Christ’s death is found in Philippians 2:8-11. In this passage, we read:
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
As has been noted by a number of scholars, this passage was likely part of an early hymn sung by first-generation believers. This poetic image of the consummation of Christ's reign is nothing less than a description of universal worship, with Christ being the object of all people's reverence and adoration.
Objection:"Couldn't Paul be understood as saying that all who die in unbelief will be forced by God to make this confession of Christ's Lordship against their desire and will?"
Answer: Several points may be made in response to this common objection:
1. This scene of universal submission to Christ is said to be "to the glory of God the Father." We know from Scripture that God is not pleased or glorified by those who "honor him with their lips" while their hearts are "far from him" (Matt 15:7-8, 18; Mark 7:6; cf. Isaiah 29:13). God desires truth "in the innermost being" (Ps 51:6). Through the words of the Psalmist, God states that “the one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Ps. 50:23). And according to Paul, it is a heart that is full of thanksgiving toward God for his abundant grace that is "to the glory of God" (2 Cor. 4:15) - not a forced and hypocritical "confession" from the lips of those who have no love for God or his Son.
2. "Every tongue" must include those who were believers in this life, and all will agree that their worship will be a sincere and voluntary expression of their heart. Yet Paul uses the same language of worship for all who will be subjected to Christ. There is no distinction made between those confessing. There is no indication that some are to bow their knee and confess willingly, and some by compulsion. It is all"to the glory of God the Father."
3. The OT passage from which Paul is quoting involves praise. In the Septuagint, or LXX (the Greek translation of the OT, from which Paul regularly quoted), Isaiah 45:23 reads, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess to God.” The word translated “confess” (exomologeō) means to praise or to acknowledge openly and joyfully (see Rom. 15:9, where Paul uses the same word). Consider also the ESV translation of the Hebrew text: “To me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear allegiance.” Notice that, in the original Hebrew, those whom God promises will ultimately bow to him are swearing their allegiance to him as well.
4. Finally, Paul silences all arguments for a so-called involuntary or “forced confession” when he asserts that it is only in the Holy Spirit that anyone can exclaim "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3). Any such sincere confession would consequently be a mark of those in whom the Spirit is dwelling, and who thus have been saved (cf. Rom 10:9). Unless this verse is the sole exception, Paul never depicts an involuntary confession of Jesus' Lordship.
God will be all in all
In 1 Cor. 15:24-28, Paul provides us with another glimpse of the same history-consummating scene depicted in Eph 1:9-10, Phil. 2:10-11 and Col. 1:19-20.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For“God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
According to the "order" Paul gives us above, Christ was the first to be vivified or "made alive," never to die again. The next in line will be believers ("those who belong to Christ"). And Paul's next words are, "Then comes the end." The "end" of what? Given the fact that Paul had just revealed that there is a sequence involved in the resurrection and vivification of all who die in Adam, it's likely that what Paul has in mind here is the end (or "consummation") of this sequence, or "order." Paul had previously said that believers ("those who belong to Christ") would be vivified at his coming. This category of people is the second "order." But there must be another category of human beings who will be made alive in Christ; otherwise, it would not be true that all dying in Adam will be vivified. And this class of humanity would constitute a third and final “order” in Christ's conquest of death. Thus, it can be concluded that those not vivified in Christ at his coming will be vivified at a yet future time - just before Christ delivers the kingdom to God, the Father. 
According to Paul, that which must take place before Christ delivers the kingdom to God is the destruction of death (which he calls the "last enemy"). And in order for death to be destroyed (or "abolished"), all who have died (and are dying) in Adam must be vivified in Christ – including those who have died (and are presently dying) in unbelief. Thus, before Christ can deliver the kingdom to God, all human beings must be saved from death. And this must include the "second death" referred to by John in Revelation 20:11-15.
Objection: But John doesn't say that anyone will be saved from the second death.
Answer: John recorded only what was revealed to him in the visions he received from God. What ultimately happens to those human beings who are to be cast into the lake of fire to die a second time was simply not a part of John's vision. This in no way means that this is the end of their story. If it was, it would mean that death is not going to be destroyed by Christ. But this would contradict Paul, who (thankfully) provides us with further revelation on this subject. According to Paul, Christ's reign is going to continue until this "last enemy" is done away with. And we know from what John says in the chapters that follow (Rev. 21-22) that Christ - along with his saints - are still reigning during the period of time that immediately follows the "second death" judgment (i.e., the eon of the new heaven and new earth). Thus, we can know that death has not yet been destroyed during this future period of time (for Christ is still reigning and the second death is still in effect), and that the scene being described by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:24-28 has not yet come to pass.
Now, the kingdom that Paul says Christ is going to ultimately deliver to the Father is the same kingdom which Daniel had prophesied the Messiah would receive from God (see Dan. 7:13-14). And the implication is that this kingdom will, when given back to God, be full of subjects. But who will be the subjects of the kingdom that Christ is one day going to deliver up to his Father? Well, in this passage, we are told that “all things” (ta panta, “the all” or “the universe”) are eventually going to be subjected to Christ. Significantly, God is said to be the only exception to the "all things" that are to be put in subjection to Christ. This can only mean that all other persons (both human or angelic/celestial) are included. Thus, the kingdom that Christ is ultimately going to deliver to his God and Father is going to consist of all created, personal beings.
Moreover, the Greek word translated as “subjected” here (hupotasso) implies obedience and submission. When human persons are in view it carries the idea of willing submission and loyalty to another (Luke 2:51; Rom 10:3; 13:1; 1 Cor. 14:34; 16:16; Eph 5:21-22; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5). It is the same word used to speak of Christ's own willing submission to the Father when he delivers the kingdom to God after raising the dead (1 Cor. 15:28). In Romans 8:7, Paul tells us that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, "for it does not submit (hupotasso) to God's law; indeed, it cannot." Based on how the word is consistently used throughout the NT, it is clear that for any person to be subjected to Christ, they must be obedient to him. But what does Christ want all people to do? Answer: He wants all people to worship and glorify God, his Father. Thus, if all people are to be subjected to Christ, then all people will necessarily become obedient subjects of God's kingdom.
This is especially evident by how Paul concludes this passage. In v. 28 we read that, after Christ has destroyed death and subjected all things to himself (and then subjected himself to the Father), God will then be “all in all.” Remarkably, those who are to become part of the “all in all” that God is ultimately going to become when Christ delivers the kingdom to him will constitute the same all-inclusive group that are to be subjected to Christ at the end of his reign. Thus, since all human beings are ultimately going to be subjected to Christ, it follows that all human beings are going to be part of the "all in all" that God is going to become when Christ delivers the kingdom to God. And the fact that God is going to become “all in all” (or “everything in everyone”) implies that all people are ultimately going to become holy and righteous (for God is, and always will be, holy and righteous).
God, the Savior of all mankind
The “order” Paul provides us with in 1 Cor. 15:20-28 (i.e., believers being saved first, followed by everyone else at the end of Christ's reign) is consistent with what Paul later declared to Timothy: “To this end we toil and strive, because we rely on the living God, who is the Savior of all mankind, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). This verse is explicit enough to refute the doctrine of eternal conscious torment all by itself. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that many Christians have availed themselves to make these words of Paul mean anything but what they seem to mean. So does Paul really mean that God is the Savior of all people? Absolutely! Consider an earlier instance in which Paul makes use of the phrase “God our Savior” in this letter to Timothy:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:1-4)
Here Paul exhorts believers to pray for all people, including all in positions of power. Paul exhorts Christians to pray for all people because God "desires" (thelo ethelo) that these very same people be "saved" and come to "the knowledge of the truth." The word translated "desires" in verse 4 means, "To will, determine or delight in." Thus, what Paul is telling us in these verses is that, whether we have come to such a realization or not, all people are the objects of God's redemptive love, and are embraced by his gracious purpose in Christ. But if it’s true that God genuinely wants all people to be saved, what then has he done to accomplish this? After all, we’re told that God “does all that he pleases” and “will accomplish all [his] good pleasure (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 46:10). Paul provides the answer in the very next verse:
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony to be given in the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth."
Here, we see how God may be rightfully called "the Savior of all people": he both wills/desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and he has done what is necessary to bring it about! It is by sending Christ to be “a ransom for all” that God's desire to save mankind will be realized. The expression, "there is one mediator between God and men" (anthrōpos) helps us to determine who is included in the "all" for whom Christ gave himself as a ransom: it is all persons who fall into the category of anthrōpos and are in need of a Savior.
Especially of believers?
But if God is ultimately going to save all people, what did Paul mean when he called him the Savior "especially of those who believe?" Well, it can't mean less than the fact that he is the Savior of all people. The word "especially" can only mean something more. To better understand Paul's use of the word "especially" here, we need only look to other examples in his letters. In Galatians 6:10 we read, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (for more examples of Paul's use of "especially," see 1 Cor. 14:1; Phil 4:22; 1 Tim 5:8, 17; Titus 1:10 and Philemon 16). Is Paul saying that we are to "do good" to those who are of "the household of faith" to the exclusion of all others? Or, is Paul saying we are to do good to all people, but that those who are of "the household of faith" should be our first priority (since it is those who are of the "household of faith" with whom we are in community)?
Obviously, the latter is Paul’s intent. Those who are of "the household of faith" ought to come first, though we should make the best of the opportunities God gives us to help all people who are in need - even those people who dislike or hate us. Similarly, Paul calls God the Savior "especially of those who believe," since Scripture reveals that those who believe are going to be saved by God before everyone else. But this early salvation of believers does not in any way diminish or subtract from the salvation that all people are certain to receive from God at a later time, when Christ destroys death (including the second death) and subjects all to himself so that God may be “all in all.”