If God is Love, Then Why Won’t Everyone be Saved?
The new issue of Credo Magazine focuses on the question, “Will all be saved?” The following is an excerpt from Todd Pruitt’s article, “If God is Love, Then Why Won’t Everyone be Saved? Justice and Love Displayed at the Cross of Christ.” Todd Pruitt has been the Lead Pastor of Covenant since 2013. Originally from Houston, Texas Todd was raised and educated as a Southern Baptist. He is a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He has served churches in Oklahoma, Kansas and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his free time Todd is a cohost of the Mortification of Spin podcast and blog.
In 2011 Evangelical mega-star Rob Bell published his (infamous?) book Love Wins. In some ways this was Bell’s farewell to the evangelicalism of his early ministry. In the book, Bell advances a brand of universalism typically referred to as inclusivism or Christian inclusivism. The idea is that because God is love everyone, in the end, will be saved by Jesus regardless of what they have done or believed (though Bell does seem to hold out the possibility that some may be so unwilling to let God love them that they remain in some sense separated from God). In short, everyone will be saved, Bell claims, because love wins.
The idea is beguiling. After all, who relishes the idea of sinners being sentenced to eternal punishment? But we know from God’s Word that hell will be populated by impenitent sinners. We know that God does not acquit the guilty lest he be emptied of his righteousness. Jesus himself warned against the coming judgment more than anyone in the New Testament. Indeed, the Scriptures are filled with warnings for sinners to repent and be saved from the wrath to come. But still many professing Christians either struggle with or completely deny the Bible’s teaching concerning the judgment to come (Deut. 9:7; 2 Kings 23:26; 2 Chron. 12:7; 28:11; Ezra 10:14; Ps. 2:12; 21:9; 56:7; 78:38; 90:11; Isa. 13:13; Jer. 29:12; 30:23; Ez. 7:8; Micah 5:15; Matt. 3:7; 5:22; 5:29; 10:28; 23:33; Lk. 12:5; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 3:5; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 3:11; 2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 6:16; 11:18; 19:15).
It must also be acknowledged that even those Christians who have been well taught – those Christians who have sat under a faithful preaching ministry which upholds both the love and justice of God – are not unaccustomed to moments of inner conflict. We think about the many unbelievers we know who are good and decent people and wonder if it is really in the interest of justice for them to be excluded from life in the new creation.
The thought crosses our mind: “My father was not a Christian but he was a fine man. He loved my mother and his children. He was honest and hard working. He helped people whenever he could. He behaved better than some Christians I know! Would God really exclude him from salvation?” We know what the Bible says, but still we wonder.
God is Love
What a marvelous truth it is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He is neither cruel nor capricious. Because God is simple and not composed of various parts, we know that he does not merely do loving things but that he is love in his very essence. It is impossible for God to be or do anything that is in conflict with love.
God provides a far better definition of love than do parents, a spouse, the entertainment industry, or our own sentiments. So we must have our notions of love shaped by the character of God rather than expect God to conform to our ideas of what love must do in all circumstances. There are times when what love truly is and does (i.e. God’s love) will conflict with what we believe love ought to do. Given that we are both finite and sinful we should expect this sort of gulf between the truth and our expectations.
It is also important to know that as the perfect Creator and Lord of all things, it is appropriate, indeed necessary, for God to love himself. Since God is love then he certainly loves the most pure, perfect, and lovely Being. This is a challenge for us to grasp because our love for self is inherently corrupted by sinful impulses. Because we are monads, our love for self will inevitably become sinfully selfish. But God is triune. His love for himself is a love between Persons and is therefore always being given and directed toward the Other. The indivisible God lives in eternal love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unlike us, God’s love for himself cannot ever be anything other than the perfect love between Persons. Because God is simple and not composed of various parts, we know that he does not merely do loving things but that he is love in his very essence. It is impossible for God to be or do anything that is in conflict with love. Click To Tweet
God loves himself in all of the purity and perfections of Father, Son, and Spirit. That means that God loves justice for he is just. He loves righteousness and holiness for he is righteous and holy. For God to turn his back on that which demands justice would require that he diminish his love for his own perfections. For God to wave away that which justice requires would mean that he must diminish his eternal love for himself. To ignore sin; to fail to be just would require that God’s love be diminished for he would fail to love what makes him truly lovely.
We must be careful to not collapse God into a single attribute. Nor can we pit one attribute against any other as though God is at war with himself. God is not conflicted. His attributes are not contradictory forces which must be balanced against one another. God is love; gloriously so. But he is also just. God is merciful and kind. He is also righteous and holy.
The love of God persists each moment of each day as he continues to draw people to himself from around the world. Only God knows the true number of those who will be saved in the end. But the final population of the saved will be immense. God promised to Abraham a vast legacy of spiritual descendants.
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:5-6)
Those who will come to faith in Jesus Christ – those related to Abraham by faith – will be numbered like the stars in the sky. This is so because God is love.
*Read Todd Pruitt’s entire article in the latest issue: Will all Be Saved?