Today we enter our fifth week in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. We’ve been exploring some significant and deep questions together over the last few weeks together. We’ve talked about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ve talked about what salvation is and can you lose it. We’ve talked about what baptism is and is it mandatory for salvation or just a public declaration. And last week week was probably our deepest and (at least for me) most challenging topic- that being Is the bible reliable.
Today we are looking at an equally substantial and defining question. The question that was submitted was “How can you know if you are part of the ‘select few’ those who will be saved?” This question is exploring some fundamental questions within Christianity. The person asking this question, whether they knew it or not, was asking questions around soteriology- which is, in other words, the study of salvation or the theory of salvation…how does it work, who will be saved, what is salvation, etc.. This person also is asking about atonement- what took place on the cross two thousand years ago, who did Jesus die for, and what was accomplished by Jesus death and resurrection.
Historically speaking in relation to soteriology and atonement there have been three varying theories around the question of salvation. There is on the one hand, shown in even how the wording of the question is framed, the reformed side of things which says there is the select few or called the elect that Jesus died for, and that only the elect (or predestined) will be saved. And those who aren’t elect are predestined for eternal damnation. The second position is called universalism and it says there isn’t a select few that will be saved because everyone is the select few and everyone, no matter what, will be saved. There are two versions of this..the Christian universalism belief that says all while be saved through the work of Jesus on the cross, and through his resurrection. And universalism that says it everyone will be saved no matter what and no matter what God they worship or don’t worship. (Just as an aside, I don’t believe that either Christian universalism or universalism in general can be taught from a biblical standpoint….though I do believe we should desire that all are saved. I wish that Christian universalism was true because I do want all to be saved.) The last position historically falls more in line with Arminianism and the belief is that when Jesus died on the cross, he died for everyone, hat all have the possibility and the potential to be saved and that we have free will to chose to accept Jesus and his work for us on the cross or to reject it. The “select few”then are those who select Jesus or who opt in, if you will. There are, I believe, a select few, that will be saved, not because they are chosen to be saved, but that they opt in and follow Jesus. Matthew 7:13-14 makes it pretty clear that only a “few” will follow Jesus…“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” But this doesn’t mean that salvation is only limited. I believe in one way there isn’t a select few, Jesus died for all people and all can be saved. But in another way I do believe there are a select few who do choose the way of taking up their cross, denying themselves and following Jesus.
So let’s explore two Scriptures that will help us more deeply explore the question, “How can you know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved? First let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:4-6 and then we’ll also look at 2 Peter 3:9. So let’s turn to these Scriptures and see what they have to say about soteriology, atonement, and salvation.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” This letter is to Timothy from the Apostle Paul and this part of the letter is about prayer and the importance of it in relation to worship, following Jesus, and even praying for rulers. And so in the midst of this section on instructions for worship we find these 3 verses about soteriology and atonement. So in verse 4 we read, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” This statement is pretty radical because part of the people that Paul is speaking about are the people that the followers of Jesus’ that Paul is writing to are supposed to pray for in verse 2, “for kings and all those in authority.” These Kings and authorities would include people like Nero and other ungodly leaders. The Lord hadn’t written them off and neither should those who follow Jesus. The question then would be, “If Jesus desires all people to be saved, do yo also wish it, and if you do wish it, do you pray for it?”
So there is a lot in this passage that we need to explore together. First we read the words “wants all people to be saved.” The word wants can also be translated as wills as in “wills that all people to be saved.” Now there are two different verbs in the NT for will, first being determination and the other is desire. In this context the best word would be that God desires that all people to be saved. This verses then teaches that God desires, but doesn’t determine that everyone be saved. If God wants all to be saved, then why aren’t they, the question can be asked. It comes down to the difference between desires and determines. God desires all to be saved but doesn’t determine that all people are. To determine would mean that we would lose our free will and we would become robots. God desires for all men to be saved is conditioned on His desire to have a genuine response from human beings. He won’t fulfill his desire to save all men at the expense of making men robots that worship him from being simply programmed to. And so obviously this implies the possibility of men and women accepting it or rejecting it.
Next we need to look at what the Apostle Paul means by the word people. There are some who have tried to make this statement about all people to mean “all types of people” or all people from various tribes, ethnicities, groups, etc… So does all people mean all or all types of people? I truly believe that we need to take the plain reading of this text that all means all. That everyone has access to the gift of salvation extended by Jesus and through his work on the cross. Not that everyone will take the offer as we see in life and also in Matthew 7 that we mentioned before, but that the offer is for everyone.
In verse 5 we read these words, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” This is a crucial piece of our puzzle when we are talking about soteriology and atonement. That this discussion about salvation, and atonement points to Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. That there is enough in the work of Jesus on the cross for everyone. No one will be turned away because He ran out of love or forgiveness. This would also agree with Acts 4:12 which says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Salvation is in Jesus because as verse 6 spells out so plainly, “who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
When you read verse 6 in the Greek it comes out reading more like this “who game himself as a ransom on behalf of all people.” This gets at our point again that this grace, this salvation, this work on the cross done by Jesus is not merely for a privileged few but for all. His sacrifice on the cross was inclusive not exclusive. Just look at one of the most famous Bible passages in all of the Bible, one that many of us probably memorized. I know it was my first Scripture that I memorized…John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Notice a few words in this verse including “the world” and “whoever believes” Again the work of the cross was an inclusive work not an exclusive work, and is for all people.
God wants people of every race, color, language, to come to him and find true salvation. And he is calling us, as his representatives here in this world, through this passage to pray for people and to be as inclusive as Jesus was. That if we want to see our friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.. come to faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to begin walking this journey with Jesus, then we need to be in prayer for them. We need to be talking with Him about them on a regular basis. And then be praying for opportunities to share the love, grace, compassion and mercy of Jesus with them. And we need to be for all people, just like Jesus. That Salvation is open to all no matter the nationality, race, creed, sect, sexual orientation, etc…. And we should liberally share the gospel in word and deed. But this sharing of the gospel, of our faith, must not be forced on people. There should be no force in religion. Jesus wants all people to come to a knowledge of him. That word come implies not being forced. Anytime force is joined with Christianity, it ceases to be Christ-like and Kingdom-like. (examples like the Crusades, street evangelism, etc..) Jesus never forced himself on anyone and never will. And we shouldn’t either. People should have the free will to choose or not choose to follow Jesus. To either opt in or opt out.
Let’s move on to the next verse which is 2 Peter 3:9 and see how this verse written by the Peter, one of Jesus disciples, gets at the question about how to know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved. 2 Peter 2:9 says “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Now the context of this passage is related to the second coming of Jesus but it shows God’s heart and affection for all people. It proves that God has a sincere desire that all people should come to have a relationship with Him. That he is patiently waiting for people to come to Him. The word that we encounter in this passage is the Greek word pas which means all or everyone with no exceptions. It again spells out that salvation is available to all people and not just for a select few. But at the same time only a “few” will actually choose the narrow road.
So to straight out answer the question of “how do you know if you are part of the ‘select few’ those who will be saved?” let’s go back to the first week of our discussion on what does it mean to be a disciple. We talked about being an apprentice of Jesus, standing on his shoulder, learning how he lived his life, and then seeking to emulate it in our life, to live it out in and through us. And that he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. That is how you know you are a part of the select few, or walking the narrow road mentioned in Matthew 7. Each person has the opportunity to be in right relationship with Jesus. Salvation is open to everyone, bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Kingdom is an inclusive Kingdom and Jesus is calling all people to come and be a part of the Kingdom of God and live life as a disciple of him. So my question back at the end of this sermon is “have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you opted in to his offer of love, grace, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation? He loves each and every one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. All we have to do is say yes to his offer. My prayer for each of us is that we have said yes to his offer and that we have begun to walk with Him and follow Him. If you haven’t said yes, today would be an amazing day to do so.
So let’s talk about applying this message. Let’s talk about other questions that come up in relation to our overarching question of discussion for today. Let’s unpack what it means to us as individuals and as a community that Jesus loves and wants a relationship with all people. How does this play out in our individual lives, our corporate life, and our missional lives?
1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have regarding the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What does it mean to you to know that God desires everyone to be “saved” and come to a knowledge of him? How does/can/should knowing this impact you as an individual, us as a community, and our missional engagement with our wider community?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?