Thursday, July 2, 2020

They Will Not Tolerate Sound Teaching: Exposing Christianity’s Counterfeit Church (Part Two)

Turning their hearing away from the truth

We know that, during the time of the apostles, major doctrinal errors had already begun to enter into the various ecclesias. The Greek Scriptures are full of warnings and exhortations for believers against apostatizing and giving heed to false teaching (1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15; Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1; 2:4; 5:4; Col. 2:8-9, 18;). This is especially the case in the later writings (1 Tim 1:3-11; 4:1-3; 2 Tim 4:3-4; 1 John 2:18-20, 24; 4:1-3; 2 Pet 2:1-3, 20-21; Jude 1:3-4). These and other similar verses indicate that doctrinal error in the ecclesias grew worse over time. Had Paul and the other apostles not been around to intervene and pull up the doctrinal “weeds” that were continuously springing up, the doctrinal problems that arose would’ve likely become far worse than they were, and resulted in far more believers being led astray.

We have absolutely no reason to think that the threat of deception and doctrinal error entering and taking root in the ecclesias ended after the death of the apostles. If there were false doctrines popping up in the ecclesias so recently established by the apostles (and while Paul and his co-labourers were still living), it stands to reason that the ecclesias became even more vulnerable to being led astray during the post-apostolic era. The death of Paul and the other apostles would’ve made the various communities of believers far more susceptible to believing false teachings and engaging in practices that Paul would’ve spoken or written against had he been around to do so. Rather than thinking that doctrinal and ecclesiastical purity would improve – or at least stay the same – after his death, Paul seemed to believe just the opposite (2 Tim. 2:15-18; 3:13-15).

In accord with this fact are the following words with which Paul exhorted Timothy:

“Herald the word. Stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely, expose, rebuke, entreat, with all patience and teaching. For the era will be when they will not tolerate sound teaching, but, their hearing being tickled, they will heap up for themselves teachers in accord with their own desires, and, indeed, they will be turning their hearing away from the truth, yet will be turned aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-4

When Paul wrote the letter in which the above exhortation is found, Timothy was dwelling in the city of Ephesus (which was the capital of the Roman province of Asia) and ministering to the ecclesia there, as Paul’s apostolic representative (1 Tim. 1:3). Timothy’s duties in Ephesus included refuting false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-7; 4:1-8; 6:3-5; 20-21) and supervising the affairs of the then-growing ecclesia (which included matters pertaining to worship [ch. 2] and the appointment of qualified leaders [3:1-13; 5:17-25]).

In light of Timothy’s role, we can reasonably conclude that those whom Paul referred to as “they” in the above passage were not unbelievers. It wouldn’t make sense for Paul to predict that those belonging to the unbelieving world would stop tolerating “sound teaching,” and would be “turning away from the truth.” In order for one to turn one’s hearing away from the truth, one has to already have one’s hearing turned toward it. Thus, it was believers – i.e., members of the body of Christ – whom Paul had in view in this passage.

The fact that Timothy was in Ephesus when Paul wrote to him is significant, since, in Acts 20:24-32, we read that Paul had earlier declared the following to the elders of the ecclesia in this city:

“But of nothing have I a word, nor yet am I making my soul precious to myself, till I should be perfecting my career and the dispensation which I got from the Lord Jesus, to certify the evangel of the grace of God. And now, lo! I am aware that you all, among whom I passed through heralding the kingdom, shall be seeing my face no longer. Wherefore I am attesting to you in this very day that I am clear from the blood of all, for under no circumstances do I shrink from informing you of the entire counsel of God. Take heed to yourselves and to the entire flocklet, among which the holy spirit appointed you supervisors, to be shepherding the ecclesia of God, which He procures through the blood of His Own. Now I am aware that, after I am out of reach, burdensome wolves will be entering among you, not sparing the flocklet. And from among yourselves will arise men, speaking perverse things to pull away disciples after themselves. Wherefore watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I cease not admonishing each one with tears. And now I am committing you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to edify and give the enjoyment of an allotment among all who have been hallowed.”

Thus, even before his imprisonments in Caesarea and Rome took place, Paul knew that there was major trouble looming on the horizon for the believers who belonged to the ecclesia in Ephesus. Paul knew that an era was coming when the believers in this city would “not tolerate sound teaching,” but would instead “heap up for themselves teachers in accord with their own desires.” According to Paul’s prophecy in verses 29-30, these “heaped-up” teachers would be entering the ecclesia from outside as well as arising from among the Ephesian elders themselves. It’s interesting that, although Paul referred to the things these teachers would be speaking (in order to “pull away disciples after themselves”) as “perverse,” it was going to “tickle the hearing” of the believers in the ecclesia.

But what kind of “perverse things” did Paul have in mind in Acts 20:29-30? Paul doesn’t specify here. However, it’s significant that Paul went on to commit the elders to whom he spoke “to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to edify and give the enjoyment of an allotment among all who have been hallowed.” Paul’s emphasis on God’s grace here suggests that the “perverse things” that would begin to be taught (and which would result in believers being led astray from the truth) would involve, in some way, a denial of the grace of God that is revealed in Paul’s evangel. Thus, we have good reason to believe that these “perverse things” would, in some way, be inconsistent with the dispensation which Paul said he got from the Lord Jesus, and which essentially involved testifying of ”the evangel of the grace of God.”

Paul did provide Timothy with a few details concerning at least some of the erroneous teaching that would be associated with those believers who would be “withdrawing from the faith.” In 1 Tim. 4:1-5 we read the following:

“Now the spirit is saying explicitly, that in subsequent eras some will be withdrawing from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons, in the hypocrisy of false expressions, their own conscience having been cauterized; forbidding to marry, abstaining from foods, which God creates to be partaken of with thanksgiving by those who believe and realize the truth, seeing that every creature of God is ideal and nothing is to be cast away, being taken with thanksgiving, for it is hallowed through the word of God and pleading.”

The little that Paul reveals here concerning what those giving heed to deceiving spirits would be teaching – i.e., that believers must be celibate and abstain from foods (which likely refers to abstinence from certain kinds of foods, such as meat) – indicates that the “teachings of demons” that Paul had in view here would involve what Paul elsewhere referred to as “asceticism.” In Col. 2:20-23 we read the following:

If, then, you died together with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as living in the world, are you subject to decrees: “You should not be touching, nor yet tasting, nor yet coming into contact,” (which things are all for corruption from use), in accord with the directions and teachings of men? -- which are (having, indeed, an expression of wisdom in a willful ritual and humility and asceticism) not of any value toward the surfeiting of the flesh.

Why would any believers willingly subject themselves to the sort of “decrees” that Paul had in mind in these verses? Answer: Such practices – including those specified by Paul in 1 Tim. 4:3 – were believed by some to curb sin by promoting self-discipline and suppressing the desires of “the flesh.” Such decrees were all about “sin management,” and designed to enable those who subjected themselves to them to stop sinning. And since Paul associated these decrees with a rejection of the truth that believers have “died together with Christ from the elements of the world” (Col. 2:20) and are “complete in Him” (v. 10), we can conclude that the self-denying practices against which Paul warned had, as their goal, the improving or maintaining of the believer’s position before God. However, as A.E. Knoch rightly noted in his remarks on Col. 2:19, “Any attempt to improve our position before God [or, I would add, to maintain our position before God] by physical means, whether it be an appeal to the senses or a curbing of its normal needs, denies our completeness in Christ.”

Evidently, then, those whom Paul predicted would be promoting the practices referred to in 1 Tim. 4:3 would be doing so out of the conviction that it would help prevent themselves and other believers from sinning. Moreover, according to v. 1, those who would be promoting the self-denying practices referred to in v. 3 would no longer be in the faith (for they are referred to as “withdrawing from the faith”). This implies that they would longer affirm one or more of the essential elements of the evangel through which those in the body of Christ are called and justified by God. And the fact that the decrees referred to would be an expression of their having withdrawn from the faith suggests that their belief was that sinning jeopardized their justified status or position before God (and that not sinning was, therefore, essential to their being saved). In other words, the belief of those whom Paul prophesied would be “withdrawing from the faith” and “giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons” would involve the idea that the salvation of the believer depended on something other than the saving grace of God. This, however, is completely contrary to what Paul had taught concerning the salvation of those in the body of Christ.

“In grace are you saved!”

According to Paul, every member of the body of Christ was foreknown and designated beforehand by God (Rom. 8:29-30), chosen in Christ “before the disruption of the world” (Eph. 1:4-5) and “preferred from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13). Those chosen beforehand by God are subsequently “called” by God through the evangel (Rom. 8:30; 2 Thess. 2:14). This “calling” not only involves hearing the evangel, but also being graciously granted a measure of faith to believe it (Rom. 12:3; Phil. 1:29). And, upon believing “the word of truth, the evangel of [our] salvation,” those called are then “sealed with the holy spirit of promise,” which is “an earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment, to the deliverance of that which has been procured” (Eph. 1:13-14). In other words, the salvation of every believer is certain, and cannot be lost or forfeited under any circumstances (for a more in-depth examination of this important subject, see my two-part study “The Golden Chain of Salvation”: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/12/the-golden-chain-of-salvation-study-on.html).

In accord with the above truth, we read in 2 Tim. 1:8-11 that the salvation and calling of believers is ”not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian...”

Similarly, in Titus 3:3-7 we read the following:

For, we also were once foolish, stubborn, deceived, slaves of various desires and gratifications, leading a life in malice and envy, detestable, hating one another. Yet when the kindness and fondness for humanity of our Saviour, God, made its advent, not for works which are wrought in righteousness which we do, but according to His mercy, He saves us, through the bath of renascence and renewal of holy spirit, which He pours out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, that, being justified in that One's grace, we may be becoming enjoyers, in expectation, of the allotment of life eonian.

This is in accord with the fact that, according to Romans 11:6, grace and works are mutually exclusive:

“Now if it is in grace, it is no longer out of works, else the grace is coming to be no longer of grace. Now, if it is out of works, it is no longer grace, else the work is no longer work” (cf. Rom. 4:4).[1]

Nothing can be “of grace” and “out of works” at the same time. As soon as works of any kind become “part of the equation” of salvation, the salvation is no longer of grace (and vice-versa). In accord with this fact, we read the following in Eph. 2:4-9:

“…God, being rich in mercy, because of His vast love with which He loves us (we also being dead to the offenses and the lusts), vivifies us together in Christ (in grace are you saved!) and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is God's approach present, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting.

According to what Paul wrote in these verses, the salvation that every believer in the body of Christ will be enjoying (and which will involve God’s “displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus”) is not “out of” us. It is not dependent on our will or effort. Rather, this salvation is “in grace.” It is “God’s approach present” (or “gift”), and is thus “not of works, lest anyone should be boasting.” This is further confirmed by Romans 5:20-21:

“Yet law came in by the way, that the offense should be increasing. Yet where sin increases, grace superexceeds, that, even as Sin reigns in death, thus Grace also should be reigning through righteousness, for life eonian, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

For those who have been chosen by God for the salvation referred to in v. 21 – i.e., life eonian – God’s grace “reigns” over them. The believer cannot “out-sin” grace; the more that he or she sins, the more God’s grace “superexceeds” for them. For – as we’re told in Romans 6:23 – the life eonian that every member of the body of Christ is destined to enjoy is “the gracious gift of God…in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

If the belief of those whom Paul prophesied would be “withdrawing from the faith” and “giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons” did, in fact, involve the idea that the salvation of the believer depended on something other than the saving grace of God, then this means that it was simply a newer (and less “distinctively Jewish”) version of the doctrinal error that required Paul to write his letter to the saints in Galatia. The nature of the Galatian error was such that it led to some believers being transferred from the evangel through which they’d been called “in the grace of Christ” to “a different evangel, which is not another” (Gal. 1:6-9). The false “evangel” to which at least some of the saints in Galatia were being “transferred” was, apparently, a distortion of the true evangel that Paul had previously brought them (v. 7), and which Paul had been heralding among the nations (2:2, 7).

The nature of the error which resulted in this distortion of the true evangel is, I believe, summarized by Paul in Galatians 3:1-3:

“O foolish Galatians! Who bewitches you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was graphically crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you get the spirit by works of law or by hearing of faith? So foolish are you? Undertaking in spirit, are you now being completed in flesh?”

Based on what we read in these verses, the teaching that was endangering the Galatian ecclesia involved the erroneous claim that believers had to do something to attain and/or maintain their righteous standing (or justification) before God, and implied a denial of the truth that the death of Christ was sufficient for our salvation (notice Paul’s reference to Christ’s crucifixion in v. 1). Despite the fact that the Galatian believers had received the spirit[2] through faith in the truth of what Christ did on our behalf, they had been “bewitched” into thinking that certain “works of law” had to be performed in order for them to be “completed” (i.e., completed with regard to their righteous standing before God, and – by implication – their salvation).

The first of the “works of law” that Paul had in mind was receiving the sign of the covenant between God and Israel (circumcision), and was an act that signified that one was placing oneself “under the law” (Gal. 4:21) – i.e., under Israel’s covenant-based legal obligation – and thus becoming a “debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:3).[3] For those under this legal obligation, righteous conduct was not merely beneficial or recommended (as Paul considered “good works” to be for all believers); rather, they were considered mandatory, and necessary expressions of one’s faith (apart from which the believer’s faith would’ve been “dead” and unable to result in their salvation).[4]

Against the idea that our justification could possibly depend on our righteous conduct, Paul wrote the following in his letter to the saints in Galatia: “I am not repudiating the grace of God, for if righteousness is through law, consequently Christ died gratuitously” (Gal. 2:21). In other words, for someone to do anything (or refrain from doing something) in an attempt to attain and/or maintain a righteous standing before God would involve “repudiating the grace of God.” In the same letter, Paul went on to write, “Now I, brethren, if I am still heralding circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? Consequently the snare of the cross has been nullified” (Gal. 5:11). For those who believe that our righteousness before God depends in any way on something that the sinner must do (or refrain from doing), the cross of Christ becomes a “snare” to them (i.e., it becomes something from which they will struggle to free themselves).

Paul, however, saw the cross of Christ as the only thing in which he could “boast” (Gal. 6:14), for it was on the cross that Christ accomplished the only work of obedience on which the salvation of sinners depends. No other work is needed to complete it. Christ’s death on the cross was an act of perfect obedience through which the justification and salvation of all sinners was procured, and belief in this truth for eonian life is simply not compatible with the belief that anything further must be done to procure one’s justification and salvation. To believe that there is something that one must now do to be “completed” with regard to one’s justification (and in order to “guarantee” one’s salvation) is to deny the truth of the sufficiency of Christ’s work for one’s salvation.

They shall not tolerate sound teaching

In 2 Tim. 1:15-16 we read that, during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, all in the province of Asia turned away from him, being ashamed of his chain (2 Tim. 1:15-16). If anyone was more likely to become deceived by false doctrines and led astray from the distinctive truths that Paul had labored to bring the nations during his apostolic ministry, it was those believers who turned away from Paul at this time. Significantly, three of the so-called “early church fathers” – i.e., Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 70-155), Theophilus of Antioch (died c. 180 AD) and Irenaeus of Gaul (c. 125-202 AD) – became Christians in or near the very province in which Paul said “all” had turned away from him during his imprisonment. And – in contrast with Paul’s teaching that the salvation of those in the body of Christ is not based on our righteous deeds and obedience – these church leaders taught that both faith and righteous conduct (including the avoidance of sin) were necessary to salvation, and that believers could, therefore, lose their salvation through disobedience.

In his “Letter to the Philippians,“ Polycarp wrote, “He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness…” (chap. 2, emphasis mine)

In his work To Autolycus, Theophilus (who was, apparently, the first writer to have used the term “trinity” to refer to God) wrote, “For God made man free, and with power over himself. That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption. (Book II, chap. 27)

And in another place, Theophilus wrote, “He who acts righteously will escape the eternal punishments, and he will be thought worthy of the eternal life from God.”

Similarly, Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp, and also made use of the works of Theophilus in his writings) wrote the following in his work “Against Heresies”: “Christ will not die again on behalf of those who now commit sin because death shall no more have dominion over Him…Therefore we should not be puffed up…But we should beware lest somehow, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins but rather be shut out from His kingdom…” (Book IV, chap. 27)

Irenaeus went on to write, “With respect to obedience and doctrine, we are not all the sons of God. Rather, it is only those who truly believe in Him and do His will. Now, those who do not believe, and do not obey His will, are sons and angels of the devil…Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons.” (Book IV, Chapter 41)

We also know that Irenaeus’ disciple, Hippolytus (c. 170-235 AD), taught that salvation required righteous deeds. In one work, Hippolytus wrote the following:

“…the fire that is unquenchable and without end awaits [the lovers of wickedness]. So does a certain fiery worm that does not die and that does not consume the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain. No sleep will give them rest. No night will soothe them. No death will deliver them from punishment. No voice of interceding friends will profit them. For the righteous are not seen by them any longer, nor are they worthy of remembrance. Rather, the righteous will remember only the righteous deeds by which they reached the heavenly kingdom…”

Later, we find Hippolytus asking the following rhetorical question: “…who are the ones who have reconciliation made for their sins – except those who believe on his name and propitiate his countenance by good works?[5]

Although the doctrinal position affirmed by these Christian leaders concerning the relationship between salvation and righteous conduct is completely contrary to what Paul taught concerning the salvation of believers, their beliefs were not considered “heretical” at that time. Instead, the doctrinal position affirmed in the above quotes can also be found expressed by nearly every post-apostolic “church father” whose writings have been preserved. For example, Justin Martyr – who was born in Samaria around 100 AD and carried out a Christian ministry in Rome (where he was martyred in 165 AD) – wrote the following:

“…we hold this view…that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. For if all men knew this, no one would choose wickedness even for a little, knowing that he goes to the everlasting punishment of fire…“ (The First Apology, chap. 10)

“…those who have been persuaded that the unjust and intemperate shall be punished in eternal fire, but that the virtuous and those who lived like Christ shall dwell with God in a state that is free from suffering—we mean, those who have become Christians…” (The Second Apology, chap. 1)

Similarly, Tertullian – who lived and died in Carthage (c. 160-240) – believed that Christians had to “attain a blameless life” in order to avoid “eternal punishment for sin”:

“We receive our awards under the judgment of an all-seeing God, and we Christians anticipate eternal punishment from Him for sin. Therefore, we alone make a real effort to attain a blameless life. We do this under the influence of…the magnitude of the threatened torment. For it is not merely long-enduring; rather, it is everlasting.” (Apology, chap. 45)

Many more similar quotes could be provided from these and other Christian writers. However, I think these should be sufficient to demonstrate that, by the time the apostolic era ended, the Christian church had already begun to descend into a state of grace-denying doctrinal apostasy in relation to what Paul had referred to as “sound teaching.”

Moreover, it’s further evident from a number of these quotes that, as early as the second century AD, a belief in the endless punishment of the wicked had already gained a foothold within Christianity.[6] For example, Justin Martyr makes his view concerning the fate of the wicked pretty clear with the following statement: “And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold.”

Mark Minucius Felix (who died c. 250 AD in Rome) was even more emphatic (and sickeningly graphic) in his affirmation of the nightmarish fate that he believed was in store for the wicked:

“There is neither limit nor termination of these torments. There, the intelligent fire burns the limbs and restores them. It feeds on them and nourishes them…That penal fire is not fed by the waste of those who burn, but is nourished by the unexhausted eating away of their bodies.”

Based on these quotes (and, again, many more could be provided), it’s clear that, during the first few centuries of post-apostolic “church history,” the truth of the saving grace of God that’s revealed in Paul’s evangel had already begun to be denied and opposed by Christians in positions of ecclesiastical authority and influence. Still, there is some evidence that, as late as the early fifth century, the truth of the salvation of all mankind was more generally accepted in at least some parts of the Christian world (at least, more so than it is today). According to the influential Christian theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), there were “very many” Christians in his day who – in contrast with the belief of Augustine himself (but in harmony with what we find affirmed in Rom. 11:32) – believed that God would eventually show mercy to all. In chapter 29 of Augustine’s work The Enchiridion (written from the city of Hippo in 420 AD), we read the following rather dismissive remarks concerning these Christians:

It is quite in vain, then, that some--indeed very many--yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture--but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth. “God will not forget,” they say, “to show mercy, nor in his anger will he shut up his mercy.”[7] 

However, the doctrinal position of Augustine ultimately “won the day” within Christendom, and by the sixth century AD, the truth to which “very many” Christians held in Augustine’s day had become almost completely eclipsed by the grace-denying, nightmarish doctrine of “eternal conscious torment.” And ever since this time, the majority of Christians – regardless of their ecclesiastical background – have simply taken it for granted that most sinners will never be saved.

The Protestant Reformation

It’s not uncommon among many non-Catholic Christians to consider the Protestant Reformation as a pivotal time in church history when the most essential truths of Scripture were recovered and “true Christianity” began to be restored in the world. To be sure, I do believe that this important movement was a step in the right direction. By weakening the influence of the most established and powerful expression of Christianity’s counterfeit church – i.e., the Roman Catholic Church – it helped clear the path that would, over time, lead to a greater number of people coming into a realization of the truth (although I would argue that the invention of the printing press – which greatly contributed to the widespread and lasting impact of the Protestant Reformation and related Christian movements – was far more important and historically revolutionary than anything accomplished by any of the leaders of the Reformation).

As important as the Protestant Reformation was, however, it failed to recover the truth of the evangel of the grace of God, and challenge the unscriptural doctrine of “eternal conscious torment.” Instead, the most influential leaders of this movement (e.g., Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin) left this grace-denying doctrine fully intact. In fact, not only did these Christian leaders retain the belief that most sinners will never be saved, but they provided the Christian world with yet another explanation for why most sinners will never be saved.

Most Christians throughout church history (both before and after the Protestant Reformation) have believed that the ultimate explanation for why most people will never be saved is to be found in the way that humans exercise their so-called “free will.” According to this view, the “eternal destiny” of each individual ultimately hinges on certain volitional acts made by each individual in their lifetime. However, the system of “Reformed theology” that was developed during the Protestant Reformation (primarily by John Calvin) attributed the “eternal damnation” of most sinners to the sovereign will of God. According to this view, the ultimate explanation for why most humans will never saved is that God doesn’t want them to be saved, and never intended on saving them.

Calvin was not actually the first theologian to believe and teach that God unconditionally elected only some human beings for “eternal salvation” while “reprobating” the rest of humanity to “eternal damnation” (including the non-elect who die in infancy).[8] Despite being most commonly associated with the theology of Calvin, this theological position actually originated with Augustine. It was this view that Augustine advocated in his well-known theological controversy with the British/Celtic monk, Pelagius (a contemporary of Augustine who advocated asceticism and “holiness,” and emphasized man’s ability to obey God and meet the requirements of salvation through the proper use of his “free will”). Although Augustine correctly affirmed the scriptural truth that sinners are utterly dependent on God for their salvation from start to finish, he incorrectly concluded that most people would never be saved. The combination of these two positions led Augustine to the then-novel belief that the ultimate explanation for why most humans will never saved (including most who die in infancy) is the sovereign will of God. However, this particular understanding of election and predestination didn’t really “catch on” within Christendom until the leaders of the Protestant Reformation rediscovered it and then incorporated it into their own theological systems.

It should be emphasized that the primary error underlying this disturbing theological position is not that God unconditionally elects and predestines some people but not others. Although rejected by many Christians who believe in “free will,” predestination and election are undeniable Scriptural truths (see my two-part study “The Golden Chain of Salvation”: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/12/the-golden-chain-of-salvation-study-on.html). Nor is the problem with Reformed/Augustinian theology found in its affirmation that sinners are utterly dependent on God for their salvation from start to finish (which is also completely Scriptural). Rather, the real problem with this theological position lies in its denial of the truth that some of the sinners for whose sins Christ died will not receive “the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ,” and shall not be “constituted just.”

This denial, of course, makes the Reformed theological position just another way of denying “the saving grace of God” that “made its advent to all humanity.” For regardless of whether one appeals to the “free will” of human beings (as most Christians do) or to the sovereign will of God (as “Reformed” Christians do) in an attempt to explain why most sinners will never be saved, one is still denying the foundational truth that “Christ died for our sins,” and is thus rejecting the fact that all sinners are destined to obtain “the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness.” We can therefore conclude that the majority of Christians today – whether they’re members of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church or the various churches that have emerged since the time of the Protestant Reformation (whether denominational or “non-denominational”) – are just as blind to the truth of the saving grace of God that’s revealed in Paul’s evangel as were the unbelievers of whom Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 4:3-4:

“Now, if our evangel is covered, also, it is covered in those who are perishing, in whom the god of this eon blinds the apprehensions of the unbelieving so that the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ, Who is the Image of the invisible God, does not irradiate them.”



[1] It should be noted that what Paul was denying was “out of works” (and was instead “grace” and “according to the choice of grace”) in Rom. 11:5-6 was the fact that there was a remnant of believing Jews. Apart from God’s grace, all Israel would’ve remained in calloused unbelief.

[2] The “spirit” to which Paul was referring in these verses (and which the Galatian believers received when they believed the evangel) is referred to in Ephesians 1:13-14 as follows:

“In Whom you also–on hearing the word of truth, the evangel of your salvation–in Whom on believing also, you are sealed with the holy spirit of promise (which is an earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment, to the deliverance of that which has been procured) for the laud of His glory!”

It is this spirit which “seals” every believer when we believe “the evangel of [our] salvation,” and is the guarantee of our eonian life (our “allotment”) until our “deliverance” (which, in Rom. 8:23, is referred to as “the deliverance of our body”). See also 2 Cor. 1:22 and 5:1-6, where Paul used the expression “the earnest of the spirit” in connection with our being made immortal.

[3] By “works of the law” Paul did not have in mind only those works that we would classify as “ritualistic” or “ceremonial.” He would’ve understood the works of the law to include, for example, the “Ten Commandments” as well. It should also be kept in mind that the precept in which Paul said the “entire law” is fulfilled – i.e., “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:8-10) – is among the requirements of the law given to Israel (Lev. 19:18; cf. Matt. 22:39-40). Thus, Paul would’ve included this precept as being among the “works of the law.”

[4] This was precisely the view affirmed by James, the brother of Jesus (see James 2). However, as I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere, the company of believers to whom James (as well as Peter, John and Jude) wrote should be understood as distinct from the company of believers to whom Paul wrote his thirteen letters. See, for example, my four-part study “God’s Covenant People” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/09/gods-covenant-people-why-most-believing.html), as well as the subsequent related articles on this subject that I posted in the months of October and November of 2018.

[5] The Extant Works and Fragment of Hippolytus (http://www.catholiccrossreference.com/fathers/index.php/Ps%20119:137)

[6] Some scholars believe that Irenaeus (and perhaps some other early church fathers) believed that the wicked would ultimately be annihilated. Although this belief is certainly less nightmarish and soul-crushing than the doctrine of endless torment, it is still contrary to the truth of the saving grace of God. And regardless of whether Irenaeus believed in annihilation or eternal torment, the following quote indicates that Irenaeus denied that all would ultimately be saved:

“Those, therefore, who cast away these aforementioned things because of apostasy are in fact destitute of all good. So, they experience every kind of punishment…Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these things is also eternal and never-ending.

[8] Like Augustine before him, Calvin believed that only some infants (those who were elect) would be saved, and that all non-elect humans who died in infancy (which Calvin probably understood to be the majority) were just as hell-bound as those who reached adulthood. As disturbing and depraved as this belief was (and is), at least Calvin – unlike many Calvinists and other Reformed Christians after him – was being consistent here. For more on this subject (including quotes from Calvin, for those who can stomach them), see my 2014 article, “Reformed Theology and the Doctrine of Election” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2014/06/reformed-theology-and-doctrine-of_7974.html). See also the follow-up article, “The Truth about Election” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-truth-about-election.html).

They Will Not Tolerate Sound Teaching: Exposing Christianity’s Counterfeit Church (Part One)

Introduction

In 1 Timothy 3:15, the apostle Paul wrote the following to his co-laborer in the faith:

“But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

The term translated “church” in this verse (ekklēsia) denotes a called-out company or assembly (see, for example, Acts 19:32-41, where the term is twice used to refer to a crowd of idol-worshipping pagans who had assembled in a theater in the city of Ephesus; see also v. 39 for another use of the word). The “called-out company” (or “ecclesia”) that Paul had in view in 1 Tim. 3:15 is the company of believers that we find referred to elsewhere as “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body” (Eph. 1:22-23) or simply “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27). In Paul’s day, this called-out company of believers was comprised primarily (although not exclusively) of people from among the nations who had formerly belonged to the pagan religious system of that day. However, after being called by God through the gospel (or “evangel”) that was heralded among them (2 Thess. 2:14) – i.e., the gospel that Paul said had been entrusted to him to herald among the nations (Gal. 2:2, 7) – they turned away from idol-worship “to be slaving for the living and true God, and to be waiting for His Son out of the heavens…” (1 Thess. 1:9-10)

But what about the “church of the living God” in our day? Of whom is this called-out company of believers comprised at this present time? I think it’s safe to assume that most mainline Christians consider the worldwide (or “universal”) Christian church of which they see themselves as a part – and which includes whatever Christian denomination and/or local church to which they belong – as being the present-day continuation of the “church of the living God” referred to in 1 Tim. 3:15. In accord with this view, the majority of present-day Christian leaders within the mainstream, institutional Christian church are seen as a continuation of faithful and devout men such as Paul and his co-laborers in the faith (e.g., Timothy, Silvanus and Titus). In sharp contrast with this view, I believe that most Christian leaders throughout “church history” have been, without realizing it, a continuation of those whom Paul predicted would be “having a form of devoutness, yet denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5), and who would be “always learning and yet not at any time able to come into a realization of the truth” (v. 7).

I realize that many Christians will consider this sort of claim incredible, outrageous and laughable (I certainly would’ve considered it to be so back when I belonged to a mainstream Christian church). However, I also think it’s a claim that can be fairly easily shown to be supported by Scripture. Before I begin to do so, however, I want to first consider the meaning of the expression, “having a form of devoutness, yet denying its power.” In Titus 1:1, Paul wrote that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, in accord with the faith of God's chosen, and a realization of the truth, which accords with devoutness…”

In these verses we find that the sort of “devoutness” that Paul had in mind is closely associated with – and, I believe, is based on one’s having come to – “a realization of the truth.” Similarly, after referring to “the words of faith and the ideal teaching” which we’re told Timothy had “fully followed,” Paul went on to associate devoutness with a rejection of what he referred to as “profane and old womanish myths” (1 Tim. 4:6-8). Regardless of the exact nature of these “myths,” I think it’s clear that the “devoutness” to which Paul referred is not something that can be disconnected from what Paul considered “the truth” and “ideal teaching.” In light of these considerations, it’s my understanding that the “devoutness” of which Paul wrote in 2 Tim. 3:5 and elsewhere is an attitude of God-honoring reverence and devotion toward the living and true God that, during the wicked days that make up this “present wicked eon” (Eph. 5:15-16; Gal. 1:4), can only be possessed by believers (i.e., those whom Paul had in mind when he referred to “the faith of God’s chosen”).

But why do I believe that most Christian leaders only have the “form” (or “outward appearance”) of the “devoutness” of which Paul wrote? Because, despite their devout appearance (which includes not only their conduct but, to a certain extent, their words), these Christian leaders unwittingly deny the very power which enables people to possess the true devoutness that Paul exhorted Timothy to be pursuing (1 Tim. 6:11). And what power is this? Answer: The power by which believers are able to possess the devoutness of which Paul wrote is, I believe, the saving grace of God. In Titus 2:11-13, we read the following:

For the saving grace of God made its advent to all humanity, training us that, disowning irreverence and worldly desires, we should be living sanely and justly and devoutly in the current eon, anticipating that happy expectation, even the advent of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ…”

It should be noted that Titus 2:11 reads a little differently in other translations. For example, in the English Standard Version, the New English Translation and the New King James Version, the beginning of this verse reads as follows:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.”

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…”

Even in these versions, however, it’s clear that the grace of God that Paul had in view is inseparably connected with the salvation of all humanity (and in the next section, I’m going to be arguing that the “saving grace of God” that “made its advent to all humanity” is the grace of God that, in Col. 1:5-6, we’re told is realized by all who have believed “the word of truth of the evangel”). But what, exactly, is grace? The Greek word translated “grace” in v. 11 (χάρις or “charis”) is defined as follows in the Greek-English Keyword Concordance of the Concordant Literal New Testament: “An act producing happiness, a benefit bestowed on one who deserves the opposite.” Regardless of the circumstances in which it’s given or manifested, God’s grace is always unmerited, and its recipients are always undeserving of it.

Since the “saving grace of God” is such that it trains believers to “be living…devoutly in the current eon” – and since the grace of God is undoubtedly a power that brings about certain positive changes in sinners (1 Cor. 15:10; 1 Tim. 1:14) – it’s reasonable to conclude that God’s saving grace is, in fact, the power that enables believers to be living devoutly in the current eon (thus making it the power of devoutness that Paul predicted would be denied by certain men who would be “having a form of devoutness”). In any case, I’m convinced that the majority of Christian leaders throughout church history have, in fact, denied the saving grace of God. And by virtue of this denial (and associated rejection of what Paul considered “sound teaching”), they have, generally speaking, belonged to that category of people whom Paul referred to as being “disqualified as to the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8). And I believe the same can be said concerning the vast majority of Christian leaders (and Christians in general) in the world today.

Now, to be clear, I’m not claiming that the majority of Christians knowingly deny the saving grace of God referred to by Paul in Titus 2:11, or that most Christians believe that they deny God’s saving grace. Regardless of their ecclesiastical background, all Christians would adamantly affirm that they believe in God’s saving grace, and would happily profess (likely with a feeling of strong conviction) that sinners are “saved by grace.” It also can’t be denied that the word “grace” holds a prominent place in the religious/theological vocabulary of most Christians (for example, the key soteriological doctrines that were taught in the Presbyterian church in which I grew up – and which are shared by all churches that belong to the so-called “Reformed” tradition – are often referred to as the “Doctrines of Grace”). At any given event during which Christian doctrine is being taught and/or discussed by Christians, one is very likely to hear the word “grace” used quite often. Similarly, one will find the word “grace” used frequently in Christian literature and music (one of the most beloved and well-known Christian hymns of all time is, of course, “Amazing Grace”). So how can I claim that the majority of Christians deny the grace of God?

Realizing the grace of God in truth

To better understand why I think it can be said that the majority of Christian leaders and laypeople deny the saving grace of God, we need to consider how the saving grace of God relates to, and is revealed in, Paul’s gospel (or “evangel”). As noted earlier, Paul predicted that the men who would “have a form of devoutness” while “denying its power” would be “always learning and yet not at any time able to come into a realization of the truth. I also noted how, in Titus 1:1, Paul associated devoutness with a realization of the truth (which “God’s chosen” come into when they first believe the evangel through which God calls them). Keeping these points in mind, let’s now consider the fact that, according to Colossians 1:5-7, those who have heard and believed “the word of truth of the evangel” have realized the grace of God in truth.

These words imply that Paul’s evangel makes known God’s grace. In accord with this fact, Paul referred to his evangel as “the evangel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), and referred to the “administration” that had been given to him for the sake of the nations as “the administration of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2). After hearing Paul’s evangel, one’s coming to a realization of “the grace of God in truth” is inseparably connected with understanding and believing the message. And insofar as this is the case, a failure to realize “the grace of God in truth” when hearing Paul’s evangel can be considered just as much of an obstacle to one’s believing it as if one had never heard the evangel heralded at all. But what, exactly, did Paul have in mind when he referred to the “the grace of God” that is realized “in truth” when one believes the evangel referred to in v. 6?

In order to understand what Paul had in mind here, I think it would be helpful to first review the actual elements of the evangel through which those who come to belong to the “the ecclesia of the living God” are called by God. According to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, the evangel that was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations consists of the following two facts: (1) “that Christ died for our sins” and (2) “that He has been roused the third day.” The fact that Christ’s death “for our sins” was just as essential to Paul’s evangel as Christ’s subsequent resurrection is further confirmed from what we read in 1 Cor. 1:17-25 and 2:1-5 (where it’s made clear that “the cross of Christ” and “Christ crucified” was the focus of Paul’s presentation of his evangel among those in Corinth). But what does it mean for Christ to have “died for our sins?” 

The Greek term translated “for” in the expression “Christ died for our sins” is “huper.” In the letter to the Hebrews, there are a number of verses in which we find this term used in connection with sins (see Heb. 5:1, 3; 7:27; 9:7; 10:12). In all of these verses, the author had in view a “sin offering” – that is, a sacrifice offered to God to deal with the sins of those for whom the sacrifice was offered (see Lev. 4:20, 26, 35; 5:10, etc.). The sin offering dealt with the sins for which it was offered by resulting in the sins being eliminated, or taken away, by God. Thus, in those verses where we find the term huper (“for”) being used in connection with a sin offering, it essentially means “to deal with” (i.e., by resulting in the elimination/taking away of the sins for which it was offered).

Significantly, Paul elsewhere referred to Christ’s death using words and imagery derived from the sin offering (Rom. 3:24-25; 8:3; Eph. 5:1-2). Not only this, but Paul explicitly stated that Christ was made a sin offering for our sakes: ”For the One not knowing sin, [God] makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).[1] Insofar as a sin offering is a sacrifice offered to God that has, as its design and intended purpose, the elimination of the sins of those for whom the sacrifice is offered, it follows that the sins of everyone for whom Christ died shall be eliminated, and will cease to be reckoned to them by God. Thus, to believe that “Christ died for (to deal with) our sins” is to believe that the sins for which Christ died shall be (and not merely “can be,” or “may be”) taken away. And this means that everyone for whose sins Christ died is going to be justified.

But for whose sins did Christ die? Well, based on what we read in 1 Tim. 2:4-7, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that “all mankind” are included among those for whose sins Christ died. In these verses we read the following:

“God…wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all (the testimony in its own eras), for which I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth.”

From these verses we can conclude that the sins of all mankind are among the sins for which Christ died, and that Paul’s “our” in 1 Cor. 15:3 thus includes all mankind. Significantly, Paul wrote that it was for the truth that Christ “is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all” (v. 6) that he was “appointed a herald and an apostle…a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth.” Since we know that it was for the sake of the evangel that Paul was appointed a herald and an apostle (Acts 20:24; Rom. 1:1; 15:16, 19; 1 Cor. 1:17; Eph. 3:7; 2 Timothy 1:11), we can infer that this truth affirmed in 1 Tim. 2:6 is essential to, and inseparable from, the evangel that was entrusted to Paul. And since Paul undoubtedly had in view the purpose for which Christ died here, it follows that the expression “[Christ] is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all” was understood by Paul as conveying the same basic meaning as the expression “Christ died for our sins.”

In Romans 3:24, the blessing of justification that is inseparably connected with the elimination of sins that Christ procured for all mankind through his death is referred to as being “justified gratuitously in [God’s] grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.” The connection between the grace of God and Christ’s death for our sins is emphasized again in Romans 5:15-19:

But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ, to the many super-abounds.

And not as through one act of sinning is the gratuity. For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award. For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rather, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life's justifying. For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

The “obedience of the One” (v. 19) is an undeniable reference to Christ’s obedient death on the cross (Phil. 2:8), when he gave himself “a correspondent ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-7). Thus, the “grace of God” referred to in v. 15 (which we’re told “super-abounds” to all who were “constituted sinners”) involves that which Christ procured by his obedient death on behalf of all mankind. According to Paul, just as all humanity fell under condemnation because of the disobedience of “the one man,” Adam, so all humanity will ultimately become the recipients of the grace secured by the obedience of Christ and “shall be constituted just” (for a more in-depth defense of this understanding of Romans 5:15-19 – and a response to the most common objections raised by Christians – see my first blog article, “The Ultimate Outcome of Christ’s Death, According to Paul”).

Moreover, since it is death (and not “eternal conscious torment”) that is the condemnation from which all mankind will be saved when they’re “constituted just” (Rom. 5:12-14; cf. 1:32; 6:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:55-56), it follows that the justification that Paul had in view in Romans 5:19 necessarily involves a state in which all people will be placed beyond the reach and dominion of death. That this is the case is confirmed from what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22: 

“Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.

Contrary to how v. 22 is sometimes misquoted by Christians, the “all” who we’re told shall be vivified are not said to be “all in Christ” (which is a grammatical construction that might imply that only those who die as believers will be vivified in Christ). Rather, the truth Paul was affirming is that, “in Christ, shall all be vivified.” The “all” who shall be vivified “in Christ” are identical with the “all” who are dying “in Adam,” and are thus identical with the category of people referred to as “all mankind” in Romans 5:12-18 and elsewhere. But what does it mean to be vivified (or “made alive”) in Christ?

For those who have died, being vivified in Christ means far more than “merely” being resurrected. Christ is “the Firstfruit of those who are reposing,” but he was not the first man to be restored to life after being dead for a period of time. However, all previous resurrections (such as that of Lazarus, or Jairus’ daughter) involved being restored to a mortal existence, and did not place the person resurrected beyond the reach of death. Everyone previously resurrected eventually died again. This was not the kind of resurrection that Christ underwent. Rather, the resurrection that Christ underwent involved his being introduced into an immortal, incorruptible state, and consequently placed him beyond the reach of death (see also 1 Cor. 15:54-55 for further evidence that being vivified in Christ involves being placed beyond the reach of death).

Thus, the resurrection that Paul said comes “through a Man” (Christ) – and of which Christ is “the Firstfruit” – should be understood as a resurrection to incorruption and immortality. And this means that being “vivified in Christ” means being resurrected into the same incorruptible, deathless state into which Christ was raised by God (and which, as revealed in 1 Cor. 15:42-44, will involve being roused with an incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual body).

After affirming that everyone dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ, Paul wrote the following in 1 Cor. 15:23-28:

“Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.”

That over which Christ “must be reigning until he should be placing all his enemies under his feet” is the “kingdom” that we find referred to in v. 24. The word “until” in v. 25 indicates that the placing of Christ’s enemies under his feet (i.e., the subjection of his enemies) is the goal of his reign over this kingdom. When this goal is reached, there will no longer be any need for Christ to continue reigning, and Christ will give up the kingdom to his God and Father.[2] And when the kingdom over which Christ will be reigning is given up to God, God alone will reign as King over this universal kingdom, and all created beings – including Christ himself – will be his subjects (which is what’s being affirmed in v. 28 where we read, “…then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.”).

That the “all” in whom God is going to be “All” when the kingdom is given up to him will include all mankind is evident from the fact that “all things” (ta panta, “the all” or “the universe”) are going to be subjected to Christ before he gives up the kingdom to God (and, in v. 27, we’re told that God is the only exception to the “all” that is going to be put in subjection to Christ). Those who are to become part of the “all” in whom God will be “All” when Christ gives up the kingdom to him will, therefore, be comprised of the same all-inclusive group that are to be subjected to Christ at the end of his reign. Thus, since all human beings will be subjected to Christ when he abolishes death, it follows that all human beings are going to be in the kingdom when it is given up to God so that God “may be All in all.”

Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20-21 further confirm the view that the subjection of all to Christ will take place when he abolishes death at the end of his reign. In these verses we read the following:

“But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.”

The CLNT translates v. 21 as follows: ”[the Lord, Jesus Christ] will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself.”

The first future event that Paul had in view in these verses – i.e., the transformation (or transfiguration) of our present, mortal bodies into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body – will take place when, in accord with verses such as 1 Thess. 4:15-17, Christ comes from heaven to save those who belong to “the ecclesia which is His body.” And this event will involve every member of the “body of Christ” being “changed, in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trump” (1 Cor. 15:50-52). And as is clear from 1 Cor. 15:53-55, this “change” will involve being instantly introduced into an immortal, deathless existence:

“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality. Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”

And according to Phil. 3:21, Christ will be exercising this same death-abolishing, vivifying power when – in fulfillment of 1 Cor. 15:28 – he subjects all to himself.

“These things be charging and teaching”

The truth that ”the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ,” is going to “superabound” to all mankind (and result in all mankind being “constituted just” and thus saved from all condemnation) was not merely of secondary importance for Paul. In 1 Tim. 4:9-11 we read the following:

”Faithful is the saying and worthy of all welcome (for for this are we toiling and being reproached), that we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers. These things be charging and teaching.”

The “things” that Paul exhorted Timothy to “be charging and teaching” can be broken down into the following truths found in v. 10:

1. We (i.e., believers) rely on the living God.[3]
2. The living God is “the Saviour of all mankind.”
3. The living God is the Saviour “especially of believers.”

The fact that God is “the Saviour of all mankind” is in accord with what Paul said was the reason Christ came into the world: “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, foremost of whom am I” (1 Tim. 1:15). Since all humans are sinners, the fact that Christ came into the world to save sinners entails that he came into the world to save all mankind (hence, in 1 Tim. 2:6 we read that it is for “all” that Christ “gave himself a ransom”). We also know that Christ came to do the will of God (John 6:38; Heb. 10:7) and that God’s will “shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). Christ shall, without fail, accomplish what he came into the world do. And what is the will of God in regard to the purpose for which we’re told Christ came into the world? According to 1 Tim. 2:4, God “wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth.”

The fact that the salvation of “all mankind” is explicitly said to be willed by God cannot be overstated. For according to Scripture, God’s will is supreme and cannot be thwarted by the will of his creatures (Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10; Daniel 4:35; Rom. 9:9-24; Eph. 1:11). Whatever God intends to do, he does, and no one can successfully resist God when it’s his intention that something occur. With regard to the salvation of anyone whom God wills to save, God has no limitations; there is no one whom God could intend to save at a particular time but then find it impossible – or even difficult – to do so (Matt. 19:25-26). As was so clearly manifested in the dramatic calling of the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-22), it is completely within God’s power to eradicate unbelief from the heart of any sinner, and to elicit from any of his creatures – no matter how wicked and stubborn they may be at present – the unfeigned love and heartfelt obedience by which God is glorified. Concerning this fact, A.E. Knoch wrote the following:

“The apostle Paul’s case is of surpassing significance in its bearing on the salvation of unbelievers. He was the foremost of sinners, and it cannot be denied that, among men, there was no case quite as desperate as his. All question as to God’s ability to save vanishes in the light of his call on the Damascus road. The miraculous means employed in his case surely would suffice for every one of God’s enemies.” (All in All, p. 93)

Thus, as surely as God wills the salvation of all mankind (and as surely as the will of God shall prosper in Christ’s hand), the salvation of all mankind must ultimately take place. To deny this outcome is simply to deny the saving grace of God.

In an attempt to get around the truth that God is the Savior of all mankind, many Christians will appeal to the words “especially of believers” in 1 Tim. 4:10. However, in addition to failing to take into account the meaning of the term translated “especially” in 1 Tim. 4:10, this objection betrays a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the salvation that is “especially” for believers (for a more in-depth defense of these two points, see the my two-part study 1 Timothy 4:10 vs. the Christian Doctrine of Salvation). The special salvation that will be enjoyed by believers – and which is referred to elsewhere as “life eonian” (1 Tim. 1:16; 6:12; cf. Rom. 5:21; 6:22-23; Gal. 6:8; Titus 1:2; 3:7)[4] – is a blessing that pertains exclusively to the future eons of Christ’s reign. In Eph. 2:7, these future eons of Christ’s reign are referred to as “the oncoming eons” during which God shall be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” It is during these future eons of Christ’s reign that those in the body of Christ will be enjoying the salvation that is “especially” for believers. However, when death, the “last enemy,” is abolished by Christ at the end of his reign (1 Cor. 15:25-26; 2 Tim. 1:10), all mankind will be vivified in Christ and will receive the same kind of “indissoluble life” that Christ received when he was resurrected by God (Heb. 7:17), and which believers will be enjoying during the eons of Christ’s reign.

Thus, although those in the body of Christ are saved before the rest of humanity (which is why God is said to be the Saviour “especially of believers”), the special salvation of believers in no way invalidates the fact that God is “the Saviour of all mankind” as well. And since God is “the Savior of all mankind” (and not the Saviour of believers only or exclusively), it follows that all mankind – including all who die in unbelief – will be saved. Moreover (and as argued earlier), to believe that “Christ died for our sins” is to believe that all of the sins for which Christ died are going to be eliminated (which is a truth that implies the eventual justification of every sinner for whom Christ died). Since the very evangel that must be believed in order for one to be a “believer” in the current era reveals that all sinners are going to be saved because of Christ’s death, it follows that those who deny that all mankind are ultimately going to be saved hold to a position that is inconsistent with (and contradicted by) the very evangel that must be believed in order for one to be a “believer.” Thus, the common Christian view that God is the Savior of believers only not only contradicts what we read in 1 Tim. 4:10, but – in light of what it means to be a “believer” (i.e., one who believes the evangel of the grace of God) – it doesn’t even make sense.

The truth concerning the religious majority

In light of what Paul taught concerning the saving grace of God that is realized by those who believe his evangel, we have good reason to believe that the majority of Christians unwittingly deny the saving grace of God (and reject what Paul considered “sound teaching”). But does Scripture actually justify such a negative view of the “religious majority?” I believe that it does.

Throughout Scripture, the people to whom God has chosen to more fully reveal himself – and to whom he has given the most insight into what he’s doing in history and will be doing in the future – have never, at any given time, constituted the majority of people on earth (or within any society). This truth was made especially clear during Christ’s earthly ministry. Consider, for example, what Christ declared to his disciples concerning why he spoke in parables to the multitudes (or “vast throngs”) who came to hear him speak:

“To you has it been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, yet to those it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11).

In other words, it wasn’t part of God’s purpose that the majority of Israelites in Christ’s day understand the “secrets of the kingdom of the heavens”; it was only to a select few that this knowledge was being given by God.

Regarding God’s dealings with the respected religious leaders of his own day, Christ summed up God’s “modus operandi” as follows:

“I am acclaiming Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for Thou hidest these things from the wise and intelligent and Thou dost reveal them to minors. Yea, Father, seeing that thus it became a delight in front of Thee.” (Matthew 11:25-26)

This prayer reveals God’s dealings with those within the institutional religion of Christ’s day (who, like the leaders of the institutional Christian religion today, claimed to be the caretakers and defenders of “God’s truth”). The context clearly indicates that Christ had in mind the religious leaders of his day in a more general sense, for his reproach in Matt. 11:20-24 is directed toward “the cities in which most of His powerful deeds occurred, for they do not repent” (e.g., Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum). It is immediately after reproaching these Jewish cities that Christ said what he did in verses 25-26. The Pharisaic religious leaders of these cities had a significant influence on the beliefs of the majority. And God was using these respected religious leaders to keep the majority of the Jews in these cities just as ignorant of the truth as they were (while elsewhere revealing God’s truth to only a few “insignificant nobodies”).

One Christian with whom I was discussing this subject referenced Mark 4:22 as an objection to the view that God’s purpose involved hiding certain important truths from the religious majority of his day. In this verse we read, For there is not anything hidden, except that it should be manifested, neither did it become concealed, but that it may be coming into manifestation.” However, what Christ declared in this verse was just as true in his day as it is in ours. And to whom was that which was “concealed” being “manifested” when Christ spoke these words? Was it being manifested to the religious leaders of Christ’s day, and to the multitudes that were being influenced by the religious leaders? No. The truth was being manifested to the few who had been given the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it. In fact, just a few verses before Mark 4:22, we read the following:

And when He came to be in seclusion, those about Him, together with the twelve, asked Him about the parables. And He said to them, “To you the secret of the kingdom of God has been given, yet to those outside, all is occurring in parables, that, observing, they may be observing and may not be perceiving, and hearing, they may be hearing and not be understanding, lest at some time they should be turning about, and they may be pardoned the penalties of their sins (Mark 4:10-12).

And in both v. 9 and v. 23 we find Christ declaring, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” Did God give the majority of people in Christ’s day “ears to hear?” No; Christ’s words in the above passage (and in Matthew 13:1-17) completely undermine this view. See also Romans 11:7-10, where we find Paul affirming that God had given the majority of Jews who comprised the nation of Israel in his day “a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing…”

Thus, if God’s dealings with the Jewish leaders of the religious institution of Christ’s day is any indication of how he’s been dealing with the “Bible-believing” Christian leaders of the religious institution of our day (as well as throughout church history), then we should actually expect them to be unable to “see” certain fundamental truths pertaining to God’s saving grace and redemptive purpose in Christ. Given the historical precedent, we have good reason to believe that such leaders will, generally speaking, be mistaken concerning such truths. We simply have no good reason to believe that God’s modus operandi has changed since Christ’s day. And this means that we do have good reason to believe that the majority of leaders within the institutional Christian church have, in general, been more like the majority of religious leaders in Christ’s day (who, despite their sincerity, were greatly mistaken, and were even described by Christ in Matt. 15:14 as “blind guides” who were “guiding the blind”). Like the unbelieving Israelites referred to by Paul in Romans 10:2, these Christian leaders can be said to have “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”

But when did it come to be the case that the majority of religious leaders within the Christian church became “blind guides?”

For part two of this study, click here: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2020/07/they-will-not-tolerate-sound-teaching_2.html



[1] 
Translating “sin” as “sin offering” in this verse is consistent with the usage of the word “sin” in the Hebrew Scriptures (where the Hebrew term for “sin” is frequently used to mean “sin offering”). Concerning this fact, Adam Clarke remarked as follows in his commentary: “[The Greek word translated ‘sin’ in the KJV] answers to the chattaah and chattath of the Hebrew text; which signifies both sin and sin-offering in a great variety of places in the Pentateuch. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word by ἁμαρτια in ninety-four places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where a sin-offering is meant; and where our version translates the word not sin, but an offering for sin.” Clarke went on to reference more than one hundred verses from the Septuagint in which the Greek word for “sin” (hamartia) is used to denote a sin-offering.


[2] This is in accord with Psalm 110:1-2 (which Paul likely had in mind when he wrote the above words), where we read: “Yahweh says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. Yahweh sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!’” Notice that the reign of the one whom David referred to as “my Lord” (i.e., Christ Jesus) is to be “in the midst of [his] enemies.” It continues only as long as there are enemies remaining.

[3] For a more in-depth consideration of the nature and identity of “the living God” (which is, of course, a subject that’s of great importance), please see the following articles:




[4] Although translated “eternal” in most English Bibles, the Greek word translated “eonian” in the expression “life eonian” is aiónios, and is the adjectival form of the noun aión. This being the case, our understanding of the meaning of the term aiónios must be based on the meaning of the noun aión from which it’s derived. And since the noun aión means “age” or “eon” (i.e., the longest segment of time known in the Scriptures), the adjective aiónios should be understood to mean “pertaining to, or lasting for, an age/eon (or ages/eons).” A more literal English translation of this term would thus be “age-lasting” or “eonian” (which is the adjective form of the noun “eon”). For a more in-depth defense of this fact, see my earlier, seven-part study “Eternal or Eonian?” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2015/01/eternal-or-eonian-part-one_17.html). See also my article on the meaning of the Greek term “aión” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-meaning-of-aion-in-new-testament.html).