Failure to Distinguish produces Confusion
The New Testament contains a great deal of information about TWO DISTINCT SUBJECTS, namely –
1. Salvation from Sin, 2. The Kingdom of God
When expositors fail to distinguish between these, confusion results. Let me explain.Our salvation is based on Christ’s sacrifice, His shed blood. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. It is entirely the free gift of God to all who seek Him. “By grace you are saved through faith, not of works lest any man should boast.” That was how Paul expressed it to the Ephesian church, and many other Scriptures confirm it in different words.
The Kingdom of God has to do with reigning with Christ, and requires worthiness. It is defined as a race to be run, a fight to be fought, a matter of overcoming, a striving to win a prize, to gain a crown, and other similar language. This is largely the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels, especially in the parables of the Kingdom, where what we do matters greatly as to the end result. Some are variously described as 100%, 60%, or 30%, elsewhere one is promised to reign over ten cities, another over five, and so on.
To try to teach salvation by faith from the parables, with their Kingdom orientation, is bound to lead to confusion. Likewise, to try to teach that we shall ALL reign with Christ because of the Ephesian verse saying “not of works” is equally confusing. And yet, in nearly all handbooks of Biblical exposition, one finds exactly that.
It is also the basis of the confusion relating to Universal Salvation. Paul teaches clearly that ALL will ultimately be saved. But the Gospels declare that not all will reign with Christ. Paul also made this clear when he said, “If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him; if we deny Him (the suffering), He will deny us (the reign.)” Elsewhere he speaks about struggling to attain the prize of the high calling, which cannot be equated with salvation, already defined as a free gift.
I can understand why many believers reject Universal Salvation, simply because they have not learned to distinguish between these two departments of teaching. Once the distinction is made, clarity returns. The overcomers reign with Christ in the Millennium, and their task is to teach the rest of the world about God’s inestimable free gift of salvation, until all shall know and rejoice.