Yesterday we began laying out some of the doctrinal errors that are contributing to evangelical churches moving closer and closer to the idea of Christian Universalism (CU) and today we will continue in this work, covering numbers two and three out of the four I named.
The second error that I believe is putting our churches at risk for turning to CU is a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone. Now please, hear me out on this. Obviously the idea of sola gratia is foundational to Protestant Christianity and this is not at all a claim which I wish to dispute. Ephesians 2.8 makes it perfectly clear that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith,” and if any question remained, Romans 3.23-24a tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift.” So, salvation is surely by grace alone.
Then what do I mean in saying that a misunderstanding of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone puts the church on the path to CU? I mean that we must not confuse the fact that it is by grace alone that we gain our salvation with the fact that it took so much more than grace for our forgiveness to be granted. We must not ever forget that though we pay nothing to receive adoption as sons that does not mean that no price has been paid. Indeed the greatest price was paid for our salvation, the cost of Jesus’ life!
What happens when we forget that the sacrifice of Christ was necessary for our forgiveness and for us to have the ability to be justified by grace is that we forget just how offensive our sinfulness is to God. When we begin to replace the truth of the penal substitutionary death of Christ with lies like Christ died on the cross to identify with our sufferings then we begin to minimize the severity of our rebellion against God. And the moment our rebellion does not look so bad then any God who would eternally condemn someone over something as inconsequential as sin becomes a cruel despot and must be rejected by our refined sensibilities. Therefore, it is crucial not to forget that though we play no part in obtaining our salvation, it is purely by grace, there still was a tremendous price paid by Christ as a result of our sin. As the full context of Romans 3.23-24 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
The third error which tempts evangelicals towards Christian Universalism is the teaching of Free Grace theology as it pertains to perseverance. The reasoning behind this is somewhat the mirror of the reasoning for the previous point. Free Grace theology teaches people that they receive salvation the moment they accept Christ, either through some prayer or verbal declaration or what not, and that no subsequent action of their life following this can jeopardize that standing. Whereas a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone views our salvation as not needing any price to be paid for it, the error of Free Grace theology is to believe that our salvation does not need any price to be paid to sustain it. I have argued elsewhere why I feel this view to be inaccurate (see here and here) and so you may refer to those as to why I call this an error.
As far as why Free Grace theology tempts towards CU, I base this on the fact that it does not take much of a wiggle to go from believing that on either side of salvation God never requires anything more from a person than faith to believing that in salvation God simply never requires anything of a person. If the New Testament commands from Christ and the Apostles to Christians are simply the steps recommended for those who want to go deeper, then who’s to say that the command to faith is not also among those things which are nonessential? To most of you this probably sounds ridiculous, but parse it out. Why is “take up your cross daily” a suggestion but speaking with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead a requirement? Not so cut and dry, is it? Therefore, for those who are totally sold out on Free Grace theology, how much will it take to move them along to Christian Universalism? From where I stand it doesn’t seem like a lot, which is not acceptable.