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  1. Christopher Hughes August 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Here is the problem with the way this guy defines “Grace”. Per his definition “Grace” looses all meaning. There would be no point for Paul to have even brought up the idea of “grace” if it were to be thought of per the construct presented in this excerpt. Grace has to do with “unmerited favor”. To have the word “grace” carry any meaning then you must have another merited end that the favor you are shown rescues you from. What is that other merited end? A very real and horrible Hell that all of us deserve, perishing per a continual process that begins in this life per 1 Cor 1:18 having begun in Adam (Rom 5), a perishing which goes beyond the point of no return after physical death outside of faith placed in Christ – i.e., total ruination per words like “destruction” in the NT, i.e., with no chance of restoration (“once to die…then the judgment” – THE judgement, one day in court, not many chances, just one chance). So, we have to realize that we deserve Hell and for even this to carry any real weight it has to be that Hell is a real place, a very real end that many will meet – b/c if it were never a very real end to begin with (i.e., everyone gets saved from it), then at the end of the day none of us ever really deserved it anyway.

    And if, in the end, Hell was never going to be a real place that any of us really deserved to begin with anyway – then tell me again, what is Grace then? It becomes a word that looses all meaning. In reality we never merited eternal punishment in Hell and thus we were never shown “unmerited” favor. We really end up meriting salvation from Hell in some way (if for no other reason than that God is so “loving” that His love trumps Justice), so in the end it is not really favor either. You don’t have “grace” anymore now. So, might as well just crop that whole concept of grace out of the Bible. “Grace” doesn’t make sense unless you believe that we all merit Hell, just by virtue of the fact that we are human, and that our own salvation only comes via the placement of faith in the Last Adam whose perfection can be imputed to us “by grace through faith”. And, we can only merit eternal punishment in Hell if it is a real place where real people deservingly go when they die – for if it never was really there to begin with, never a real possibility (by virtue of the fact that no one ever will end up there eternally), then in reality it was never going to be the merited end of the reprobate human to begin with. So, again, without unmerited favor there is no grace.

  2. Christopher, I fail to see how if universalism is true that it would mean we didn’t deserve hell and that grace is not considered unmerited favor (which, by definition, means there is no such thing as grace and the word is simply some meaningless arrangement of letters). If God decided to send Jesus to save all of us from our sin, from death and hell, how is that not an act of grace? Unmerited favor is a quality which doesn’t seem to have any quantitative limit. Help me see where you are coming from, because I’m not seeing it and I’m not even a universalist. What say ye, my friend? Thanks.

    • Christopher Hughes August 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      If Hell isn’t a real possibilty for the reprobate – if all will be redeemed one way or another – then in practical reality you cannot be bad enough to ever really deserve it and thus you never really merit eternal punishment at all- b/c such punishment was never going to really exist anyway. Of course, this is why it is only the traditional view that makes any sense. In fact, we are all bad enough to deserve Hell b/c we all commit at least one sin. We are all defiled. Thus, to go to Hell is our just end. It is not unfair – rather, it is the fair result of our inherent condition. To be called out of this end by God and thereby saved from such a merited end is grace. Thus, the talk about “election” in Scripture. Not to get into a debate about Calvinism either (and a pure Calvinist I am not). But the point is, why even talk about election in the writings of Paul (i.e. Rom 9:22-24 where those select few called out by God, prepared beforehand for mercy, are compared to those who were not, who stumbled over the stumbling stone later in vv 31-33), if all are to end up saved in the end anyway? Such a construct would seem ridiculous in the end.

      And of course, without the very real threat of Hell all this talk on the part of Christ about cutting your hand off or poking your eye out if they be what is leading you to Hell (Matt 5:29-30) seems ridiculously over-the-top and out-of-line. Why speak with such fervor, using such extremis to make a point (and it is the point He is making that is important, of course He wasn’t really telling anyone to maim themselves), if Hell wasn’t going toever be a real eternal possibility to begin with? The point is to do whatever it takes to come to the place of true repentence and faith before you die, or else you will in a very real sense be cast into Hell, in order to experience the “eternal punishment” in the “eternal fire” that He later talks about in Matt 25:41-46. It is clear to me what Christ Himself really believed (and obviously knew) about Hell – that is was very real, and that if cast there it would be eternal. It sure was eternal for the rich man on the wrong side of the gulf in Luke 16 where “between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us” (LUke 16:26). And I think “none” means “none” – once placed in Hades the only end is that which is described in Rev 20:14 at the one final single judgment – “death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire”. This will be the second death – death in the sense that once you cross from one plain of existence to another it cannot be reversed. For, when I die I will never come back in this form again. Sure i will eventually recieve a resurrected body, but it will not be the same as this one. Thus, “death” here meaning a condition of irreversibilty. To be a part of the 2nd Death means that you have become irreversibly/eternally committed to eternal death (as opposed to eternal life). “Destroyed” in the sense of “absolutely ruined”, ruined in the sense that there is now no hope for restoration, thus the use of extreme words like “destruction” and “perish” and “2nd Death”, i.e., never to partake in life in the eternal sense of life, i.e., the life of glory in the resurrection.

      And this would be why Christ would say something like He does in Matt 7:13-14 “13 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” He was seriously concerned about the very real place that Hell is, and Matthew in writing his gospel really brings that out of Christ’s teaching.

      • Christopher Hughes said:

        “If Hell isn’t a real possibilty for the reprobate – if all will be redeemed one way or another – then in practical reality you cannot be bad enough to ever really deserve it and thus you never really merit eternal punishment at all- b/c such punishment was never going to really exist anyway. Of course, this is why it is only the traditional view that makes any sense. In fact, we are all bad enough to deserve Hell b/c we all commit at least one sin. We are all defiled. Thus, to go to Hell is our just end. ”

        The thing is. Your response here comes from a belief that every sin deserves an eternal punishment, and that this is just. Yet this concept is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. It originated as a possible reason for how hell could POSSIBLY be, and has now become an argument for how hell HAS TO be. Instead of re-thinking if the doctrine of eternal tortures stands up to the scriptures and logic. Unfortunately it is nothing more than philosophy.

        The Old Testament clearly states JUST judgments according to the law….. and these judgments are always with a limit. If I remember right the Judgment for stealing sheep (or something like that) was 40 lashes with a qualification of no more than that. In other words more than 40 lashes is illegal according to the law. There was a specific passage that said to give no more punishment than was deserved, as to do otherwise was to be an unjust judge.

        Eternal torments for this, is a helluva lot more of a judgment the 40 lashes…. and therefore illegal according to God’s law. The book of Romans mentions that people are going to be judged according to the low, and therefore It portays God as being an unjust judge.

        Also. In the Old Testament murder and adultery were two of the big bads, and the just judgment for them under the law was to be stoned to death…. nothing more. Then Jesus comes along…. and when the mob is going to stone the adultress to death he stops them and shows her mercy.

        Since Anselm (at least) much of Christianity (in the West anyhow) has taught that a sin like adultery deserves eternal punishment.

        But this is not what the Old Testament said about the matter….. and certainly not Christ’s response. Thus just judgment under the law was to be stoned to death (anything more was to be an unjust judge) and Christ showed mercy.

        Another thought to consider in the whole idea of the Old Testament law… in connection to just judgments.

        Romans says that the human conscience is tuned into God’s law.

        So if eternal tortures is fair and just according to Gods law… then why would this doctrine bother our consciences (at least until they are scathed over) so much? If out consciences re-coil against this doctrine….. then doesn’t that mean that there is something very wrong with it according to the law of God, by which people are judged?

        As well.

        If the punishment for earlthly sins is eternal wrath and Jesus paid the full price for this punishment in order to appease God’s wrath (under the reformed/evangelical penal substitution theory), then wouldn’t Jesus have to go to hell eternally in order to fully pay the price. But he didn’t. So under the these theories Jesus didn’t pay the full price for God’s wrath….. and therefore Christians are all going to hell. Which would kind of bite.

        But of course Jesus did pay the full price for sins without going to eternal hell, so therefore the price for our sins isn’t eternal. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Jesus paid these wages…. he died for us.

        • Christopher Hughes August 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm

          “The Old Testament clearly states JUST judgments according to the law….. and these judgments are always with a limit. If I remember right the Judgment for stealing sheep (or something like that) was 40 lashes with a qualification of no more than that. In other words more than 40 lashes is illegal according to the law. There was a specific passage that said to give no more punishment than was deserved, as to do otherwise was to be an unjust judge.”

          The Law in these instances was dealing with sinning against a fellow sinner. Thus, if I steal from someone there is a just and limited punishment for me b/c the guy I stole from was also an unrighteous sinner in his own right. But, the punishment of Hell is in response to our sins as they relate to and are directed at God Himself. God is absolutely and eternally righteous and to sin against him warrants an absolute and eternal punishment. The punishment does fit the crime.

          Take murder for example. We all would agree that if I murdered someone, the entirety of my life should be forfeit. One might say the death penalty one might just say life in prison, but either way the entirety of my life is forfeit And this is for sinning against and murdering a fellow sinner. Amp that up a gazillion times when sinning against the absolute righteousness found in God. Now, just one “small” violation deserves an eternal punishment. For while a human life is only 70-90 years, and thus the remainder of my 70-90 years should be justly forfeit for taking it – to sin against God’s righteousness should also demand a sentence in keeping with God’s length of life, which is eternity. So, the severity of the crime in God’s case really is amped up to eternity b/c He lives forever and even the smallest sin against His absolute righteousness is the same as taking a human life, for He is that much more righteous than anything we could every identify with.

          Justice has to be honored for God to remain righteous. He has to do what is right and part of doing what is right is upholding justice. Either the wrath of God is poured out on Christ, or it is poured out on you for violating His absolute righteousness (the only way to avoid this being the placement of faith in Christ, willfully allowing Him to take that wrath for you, He thereby acting as a substitute for you). And His wrath is not arbitrary, but rather necessary in order to set apart absolute goodness from everything else, and everything else besides absolute goodness is just not acceptable. If this were not the case, then it would compromise His righeousness for two reasons. One, sin would ultimately not be “that bad” and thus His righteousness not that important and set apart from sin. Thus, the meaning behind what righteousness even actually is would be lost and you wouldn’t have righteousness anymore. Two, to not behave justly would also render God Himself unrighteous, and now you have a world where absolute righteousness does not even exist. And what kind of horrible world would that be.

          • I’m sorry mr. Hughes. But at the sake of sounding rude, most of what you have said here is philosophy and is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It is quite simply an attempt to make sense of an eternal hell that doesn’t exist combined with an unbliblical view of God’s wrath. I’ll respond further to this when I answer your other post tomorrow.

        • Christopher Hughes August 4, 2012 at 2:35 pm

          “wouldn’t Jesus have to go to hell eternally in order to fully pay the price”

          He wouldn’t b/c He Himself was sinless and thus simply dying physically would be sufficient for the appeasment of the wrath of God. The eternality of Hell is exclusive to those who are sinners – sinners who have not appropriated the sacrifice of Christ by faith. Because of Christ’s sinlessness it was an automotic given that He would rise from the dead and conquer it once and for all. But that putting to death of Death can only be appropriated to the sinner by faith in Christ.

          We are all born into this world “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), i.e., deserving of wrath. And it is only “by grace (are we) saved through faith” (Eph 2:8), to only then receive what Christ has received, made “alive together with Christ…and raised..up with Him…seated..with Him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:5-6). This based upon our new adopted sonship that only comes through faith. Thus, to not place faith in Christ leaves one in the original state of default as a “child of wrath” and not a child of God. Thus, we are all born into this world NOT children of God, but rather children of wrath. We can only become children of God via adopted sonship – “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph 1:5) and “you have received a spirit of adoption as sons” (Rom 8:15)…”children…heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:17), where the “if” says it all – i.e., we must appropriate the sufferings of Christ in order to be glorified with Him, and that can only be done through willful faith.

          Without faith in Christ none of the above happens and one is left a child of wrath, in a state where the wrath poured out on Christ cannot be applied to the person who refuses to believe. There is only one end for such an individual if he crosses the threshold of physical death without having it conquered for him. This another reason why beyond physical death – it is over, no more chance of redemption. For, the Death that Christ conquers (1 Cor 15) was FIRST physical (His resurrection) and then spiritual (glorification). Thus, if death happens before faith is placed, Death can never be conquered in full, and for that individual all is lost. Which is why those still trapped in Death at the Judgment are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20).

          So, bottom line, for Christ eternal death would never enter the picture or be required in order to still sufficiently and fully receive the wrath of God upon Himself. For, He was righteous Himself (which separates Him from us), and thus by definition once the first phase of Death was suffered (the physical), the second phase was automatically conquered, the appropriately labeled “2nd Death” (the spiritual) per Rev 20.

          • Hi again Mr. Hughes. In response to this post, I believe that what you have expressed comes from a misunderstanding of the Biblical view of wrath mixed in with Augustine’s pagan influenced understanding of “original sin” which has entered into much of western Christianity, finding some of it’s fullest expression in Calvin’s doctrines, ifluencing the dark doctrine of penal substitution (which was foreign to the early Christian fathers, and much of current Christian thought)

            In Romans:1 Paul explains what his understanding of God’s wrath is. The “wrath” that is mentioned in Romans 1:18 is explained in Romans 1: 20-32. This being that God’s “wrath” is simply god allowing (giving over) people to go their own ways into depravity. That is Paul’s understanding expressed in this text, nothing more.

            Now if one was to read Romans through your interpretation of God’s wrath then Romans 5:9 would also be read in this context as Christians being saved from this wrath in the future (which is how this text is often misread).

            Yet in Romans 3:5-9 Paul talks about this wrath and judgment. Notice that in the text he indicates that he is “still being judged as a sinner” and is therefore still under this judgment connected with “wrath”.

            So now if one reads God’s “wrath” in these texts as being an active punitive wrath then the Bible here gives us two directly contradictory views on it. In one view Christians will be saved from this wrath, in the other Paul, being a Christian. is still under this wrath.

            So if this wrath and judgment is something that is eternally tormenting, and Paul being a Christian is still under it, then we are all in a lot of trouble.

            But when this “wrath” is properly interpreted according to the book of Roman’s understanding of wrath as simply God allowing us to go our own ways into depravity then the texts of Romans 5:9 and Romans 3:5-9 line up and make perfect sense.

            Thus in Romans 3:5-9 Paul is saying that God’s wrath (connected to his truth) will still allow him to be judged as a sinner (being to go down the path into depravity – which we know can happen to Christians.) Yet in Romans 5:9 Paul is saying that the Christian is right with God and will be saved from God’s wrath (God allowing them to go down the slippery slope into depravity.) through Christ’s help. Thus Christian believers are saved from their own self destruction through Christ.

            Furthermore, Romans 1:18 says that God’s wrath is revealed against ALL of the irreverence and injustice of men. So if this wrath is the active punitive wrath that you believe, which is revealed against ALL of mans sins, then how is it possible for God to be merciful? For instance with the woman caught in the act of adultery. If God’s wrath was actively revealed against ALL of her sins, then Christ, being the full representation of God, would have had to stone her to death. But of course he didn’t he showed mercy…. which is contradictory to an active punitive view of God’s wrath in Romans.

            But again. God’s “wrath” is God allowing people (the adulteress) to go their own ways into depravity, and God is patiently waiting (and calling) for people to repent and return to him. Thus Christ showed God’s long-suffering love to the woman caught in adultery and was merciful to her. It was this love compassion, and mercy which made people want to follow Christ then….. and it can work today.

            Now moving to Ephesians 2:3. I believe your interpretation of this text has been influenced by a misunderstanding of how Paul understood God’s wrath (as mentioned above) and the connected doctrine of original sin. I won’t delve to far into this doctrine on this particular post but the Augustinian understanding of original sin came from his pagan Gnostic influences, combined with pagan Platonic influences. Thus the Platonic influences lead to a view that Adam and Eve were perfect like God in the Garden of Eden (if they were this perfect then how is it that they were able to be tempted, to ultimately sinning before/causing the fall?), and the Gnostic influences led to the view that God was full of constant anger and wrath towards humanity because of the fall (even thought the Bible indicates that God was full of love care and concern for Adam and Eve right after the fall, as well as various people throughout the whole Old Testament.)

            As well if we are children of wrath in our nature because of the fall as you say. Then how is it that the Bible says that Jesus took on human nature being like us in every way shape and form? In your interpretation Jesus would then also be a child of God’s wrath. Also if Jesus was like us in every way shape and form then that means that humans would have had to at one point been like Jesus in every way shape and form (I realize that we probably start getting corrupted in the womb.) Of course it is impossible for Jesus, being God, to be depraved or evil… so therefore it is impossible for us to be inherently evil or depraved in our nature. I could give more scriptural texts, but this is one quick reason why the Augustinian understanding of “original sin” doesn’t stand up against the scriptures. This understanding was foreign to the founding fathers of the Christian faith, their writings show a very different view of the fall and of human nature and they considered this sort of view as being gnostic.

            So now with this in mind here is what Ephesians 2:3 says – – “among whom we also all behaved ourselves once in the lusts of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh…… and were in our nature children of wrath even as the rest”.

            So in other words Paul is saying that he was a child of God’s “wrath” in that God allowed him to go his own ways into his depravity, whereby he behaved in the lusts of his flesh… which corrupted his nature, even as the rest.

            Is this not what we see in the world? People who reject following “the Way” of Christ go down a slippery slope leading to a nature that becomes more and more corrupted. When they are led to Christ and become Christians they become “new creations in Christ” (with Holy Spirit inside) and are led on a journey of sanctification whereby their nature is led out of it’s corruption towards being more Christlike.

            Thus getting back to the doctrine of penal substitution. God’s “wrath” is simply God allowing mankind to go their own ways into depravity….. so there is no reason for Jesus to appease this “wrath” by being punitvely punished by God, and even if he did…. then he didn’t do a very good job of it, because in Romans Paul (being a Christian) indicates that he is under God’s judgment connected to this wrath…. therefore indicating that Christians are still under God’s “wrath”

            This view of a wrathful, child abusing God is simply not true….. and that’s a very good thing for all of us. 🙂

  3. I asked a question to Randal Rauser, “what percentage is the breaking point to make hell meaningful?” And I’ll ask Christopher Hughes the same – What is the percentage of people saved that makes man deserving of death? is it 99.99?% if one man was lost forever, would that mean the others deserved hell? What if it were 85%? Would that do? Christians often claim they know when they in fact don’t. And until they can prove the percentage point that brings about some form of meaningfulness to hell, they’ve only spoken hot air.

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