This is Part 4 of the study of Ephesians Chapter 1.
Some More Verses that Bring Balance to the Ideas that God Loves All People the Same; that He Loves Unconditionally ((I had a footnote: For God to love mankind unconditionally would mean that His love would not be conditioned by (that is, it would have nothing to do with) what the people did (including repentance and faith in Christ), or did not do. As I mentioned, in most ways this view is simply wrong. God's blessing all men with the sun and rain (Matt. 5:43) and, more importantly, His desire that all men repent and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) are areas where it is appropriate to speak of His unconditional love.)); that He Continues to Love Forever Those Who Continue to Reject Him and His Christ and Those Who Come to Know Him but Later Walk Away from Him and Never Repent ((I had a lengthy footnote: In this discussion about the love of God, I am not dealing with God's emotions. I am dealing almost entirely with His final (eternal) judgment of all people. Are we going to experience His eternal love, enjoying an eternal love relationship with Him, living in His presence in His eternal kingdom that is literally full of glory and abiding in all the blessings that He has prepared for those who love Him (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9). Or, are we going to be totally separated from Him and His love and goodness in the eternal lake of fire experiencing His eternal wrath. Even if He did continue to have feelings of love for the people He cast into hell, it would not affect their eternal destinies; according to the Bible, they will experience His eternal wrath, not His eternal love. There is an emotional component of love, but love is a lot more than emotions - love is an action word. If we want to experience the eternal, abiding love of God, we must submit to Him as God in our hearts and live the way He requires us to live (by the sanctifying grace of God in Christ through faith); we will be judged according to our works (cf., e.g., Rom. 2:2-13; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Eph. 5:3-7; and Rev. 22:11, 12). Our works must demonstrate that our faith is real. Faith without works is dead; it isn't saving faith.)):
MATTHEW 10:32-42; 12:30-37; 23:1-39; 25:1-13 ((This parable warns that although there were ten virgins at the beginning [they were all born-again Christians, who initially had oil in their lamps, which lamps were burning (Matt. 25:8)], only five of the virgins were ready when the bridegroom returned. Christ gave this teaching to exhort all Christians of the need to make it top priority to get ready and stay ready for His return. The bridegroom says to the five foolish virgins, who were not ready for His return, "Truly I say to you, I do not know you." Those are not the kind of words we want to hear from Christ at the end. [We will not hear such words if we make God, His truth, His Spirit, His righteousness, and His kingdom top priority. In other words, we will not hear such words from Christ if we meet His conditions for salvation.] Those words spoken to the five foolish virgins hardly fit the idea of God's unconditional, never-ending love.)); LUKE 10:5-16; 12:49-53; ROMANS 1:18-32 ((The preliminary wrath of God that is manifested now that is spoken of in these verses is a mild foreshadowing of the wrath of God that is to ultimately come against those who never do repent. To face the wrath of God on judgment day will be quite the opposite of experiencing His love. (I had a footnote: It is true, of course, that God chastens those He loves [cf., e.g., Heb. 12:5-8], but there is a very big difference between being chastened by God and being cast into the eternal lake of fire. God's chastening of His people is designed to bring about their repentance and righteousness.) Many verses speak of the wrath to come [cf., e.g., Matt. 3:7, 8; John 3:36; Rom. 2:1-9; 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6, 7; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Rev. 6:16, 17; 11:18; and 14:9-11].)); ROMANS 9:13-22 ((These verses demonstrate, for one thing, that rather that draw some people to Christ, God actually hardens them so that they will not come to Christ [Rom. 9:18, 22]. (I had a footnote: It must be understood that God never arbitrarily hardens people; He knows exactly what is in the hearts of all people, and He never hardens hearts that are not already hard. He can harden people from coming to Christ when He knows that they would be coming for the wrong reasons [e.g., without true repentance, without faith, without a desire for God's righteousness]. See Rom. 11:7; John 12:37-43. Also compare Matt. 11:27; Mark 4:11, 12; Luke 8:10; 10:21-24; and John 6:44, 65. See my paper on Romans chapters 9-11; John 6:44, 65 are discussed in my "A Paper on Faith.")); ROMANS 12:14-21 ((These verses show, for one thing, that Christians are not to take revenge. We are to cast our cares upon the Lord. But this does not mean that judgment will not eventually be poured out on those who sin against us. When vengeance (I had a footnote: Vengeance is a heavy word; experiencing God's vengeance at the final judgment is the opposite of experiencing His love. On God's vengeance, compare, for example, Deut. 32:35, 41, 43; Psalms 79:10; 94:1-7; Isa. 34:8; 59:17-20; 61:2; 63:1-6; and Heb. 10:26-31.) is required [and God is the One to determines that], God is the One who will repay [Rom. 12:19]; His leniency will not last forever; the age of grace will not last forever. The day of judgment is coming.
In Rom. 12:20 Paul quoted from Prov. 12:21, 22 to show that we are to do good [like sharing food and drink] to those who wrong us [at least there are some occasions where this would be appropriate, we must be led by God]. This could help motivate those against us to repent, but very often they do not repent. More often than not, the enemies of God and of His people throughout the Bible do not repent. If they do not repent, the evil that they have done to us, and the good we have done for them, will both be in the books when God judges all men according to their works. Should our attitude be that we never want God to judge and remove those who truly are committed to fight against God and His righteousness and to persist in doing evil? See, for example, Rev. 6:9-11 (I would translate "that they should wait [not, rest NASB] for a little while longer." The NIV has "wait."); Rev. 16:1-11, especially verses 4-6; 18:20, 24; and 19:1-3.)); 2 CORINTHIANS 6:14-18; GALATIANS 1:8, 9; 2 THESSALONIANS 1:6-9; 2:8-13 (( (This double parenthesis goes on for three paragraphs.) The apostle Paul says here (2 Thess. 2:8-13) that it is part of God's plan that Antichrist come "in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because [they did not repent and submit to the truth of the gospel]" (2 Thess 2: 9, 10). "For this reason [that is, because they took pleasure in wickedness and had no interest in becoming righteous through the gospel] God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false in order that they all may be judged [condemned] who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (2 Thess. 2:11, 12). It is hardly a manifestation of God's love when He sends a deluding influence so that these people may be condemned. God knows their hearts, and He certainly knows that these people are committed to evil and that they never will repent.
God's judgments never are arbitrary; He is a good God, and His judgments are always righteous. He is a God of great mercy, but there are, as there must be, definite limits to His mercy. His righteousness and His love for His people require that He eventually remove those who persist in sin and never will repent; they cause chaos in His kingdom; they destroy divine order; they attack His people; etc.
2 Thess. 2:13, 14, which speak of the believers at Thessalonica [and all true believers], show the great contrast between believers and those who do not obey the gospel, who will be condemned to "the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:9). "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved ["loved" NIV] by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning [by His foreknowledge (cf. Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:4)] for salvation through sanctification [holiness] by the Spirit and faith in the truth [they repent and humble themselves before God; they submit to the gospel from their hearts, the gospel that solves the sin problem and makes people righteous and holy]" (2 Thess. 2:13, 14).)); HEBREWS 10:26-31, 38, 39; JAMES 4:4, 6, 8 (James 4:4 speaks of people making themselves enemies of God by becoming friends of the world; James 4:6 speaks of God's being opposed to the proud. Neither of these expressions goes with abiding in the love of God.); 1 PETER 2:8 (("...and to this doom they were also appointed." The apostle Peter was speaking here of those who reject the gospel. It is not just that they will be condemned because they rejected Christ and the gospel of salvation, but that God appointed them to this doom. Verses like this one bring some balance to the idea that God loves all people just the same in an unconditional way. God does not arbitrarily appoint people to doom: He [the God who knows the hearts of all men and who lives above the time system of the universe] knew that these people never would repent and that they would not want to be in heaven on His terms. God could have sent His Son into the world with a message that all could easily have agreed with and submitted to, but then He would not have been eliminating sin [including the root sin of pride] and rebellion from His kingdom.)); 1 PETER 3:12; 5:5; 2 PETER 2:1-22; and REVELATION 14:9-11.
Based on quite a few verses in the Bible, we can say that God desires all men to repent and believe, but also that He knew, before the creation of the world through His foreknowledge, that many never would repent and submit to Him in faith. God created the eternal lake of fire for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41); I do not see how we can reasonably speak of God's love for those people who will end up in the eternal lake of fire once their eternal destiny has been determined, those who are called "accursed ones" by Jesus in Matt. 25:41. They certainly will not abide in, or experience, His love. At the most God could have emotional feelings for those people, regretting that they had chosen the path of rebellion and destruction without repentance.
A Few Words About the Need for Repentance. I mentioned that the widespread, out-of-balance understanding of the unconditional love of God (that He will love us just the same forever, no matter what we believe or what we do, or do not do) helps explain why there is so little fear of God and so little repentance and motivation for righteousness and holiness in so many Christians in our day. (On the fear of God, cf., e.g., Acts 5:5, 11). Christians should put the emphasis on abiding in the love of God and loving God to the maximum, but (according to both the Old and New Testaments) we should also be afraid to sin against Him. Repentance includes changing what we believe in our hearts when it is wrong, and it includes changing how we live when such change is needed. Repentance is not something we do on our own (in the flesh); God will enable us to repent as we look to Him and cooperate with His grace.
I'll list some verses that demonstrate the need for repentance: Psalm 7:12; Ezek. 18:1-32; Matt. 3:2, 8 (with 3:1-12); 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:1-5; 15:1-32; 24:47; Acts 2:38, 40; 17:30, 31; 20:21; 26:20; 2 Cor. 7:9, 10; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3, 19; 9:20, 21; 12:5, 16, 21, 22; and 16:9, 11. Some of these verses confirm that God calls all people to repent and that He truly desires their repentance.
Luke chapter 15, with its three parables (including the parable of the prodigal son), strongly emphasizes the point that heaven rejoices when sinners repent. This chapter was dealing, for the most part at least, with the repentance of backslidden children of God, but I believe it has much application for the repentance of all mankind. The parable of the prodigal son deals with a prodigal son who repents; it powerfully illustrates the point that God greatly loved this son and strongly desired his repentance. What about those prodigal sons who never do repent? These parables deal with those who do repent. It seems clear that those who do not repent will not be able to experience the Father's love, and especially not after the age of grace is over and the final judgment has taken place.
Repentance is not optional, and if we put off repenting while clinging to some out-of-balance understanding of God's love, we are making a big mistake. The time will come when it will be too late to repent. I assume, however, that those who have not repented before it is too late to repent will not want to repent then either, not on God's terms, not that they will like the alternative.
I winced as I read parts of what Clark Pinnock, a contemporary evangelical Christian scholar, said in his article written to advocate annihilationism and to reject the traditional view that God will literally send people to eternal torment. (His article is in the book "Four Views on Hell," edited by William Crockett [Zondervan, 1992].) This is an important topic in its own right, but the primary reason that I wanted to quote from this article here is that Pinnock bases his rejection of the traditional view of hell to a significant extent (as the quotations will show) on the mistaken idea that such a view is incompatible with God's love, goodness, and justice. Something must be wrong with our ideas about God's love, goodness, and justice if our ideas force us to reject what the Bible says about His wrath, vengeance, and hell. ((I had a footnote: We have already discussed God's wrath and vengeance to some extent. I'll list some key verses that speak of the eternal lake of fire (some of these verses specifically mention eternal torment): Isa. 66:24; Matt. 5:29, 30; 13:41, 42, 49, 50; 18:8, 9; 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43-48; Jude 1:7; Rev. 14:9-11; 19:20; 20:14, 15; and 21:8.)) We cannot afford to challenge God by saying that if the traditional view of hell is true, then God is not a God of love, goodness, and justice. "...what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? ... Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?" (Rom. 3:5, 6 NIV).
His view, Pinnock says, unlike the traditional view, "does not portray God as being a vindictive and sadistic punisher" (page 137). "How can one reconcile this doctrine [the traditional view of hell] with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? Is he not a God of boundless mercy? How then can we project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness? Torturing people without end is not the sort of thing the 'Abba' Father of Jesus would do. Would God who tells us to love our enemies be intending to wreck vengeance on his enemies for all eternity? ... What does this tradition do to the moral goodness of God? Torturing people forever is an action easier to associate with Satan than with God, measured by ordinary moral standards and/or by the gospel. And what human crimes could possibly deserve everlasting conscious torture? ... Given the cruelty attributed to God by the traditional doctrine, it is inevitable that sensitive Christians would always wonder if the doctrine is true" (page 140).
"Let us begin with the moral problems surrounding the traditional view, which depicts God acting in a way that contradicts his goodness and offends our moral sense. According to Christian theology the nature of God is revealed in Jesus Christ and shown to be boundlessly merciful. [The New Testament also speaks of the wrath of the Lord Jesus (cf., e.g., Rev. 6:16, 17; 19:13-15).] God loves the whole world. His heart is to invite sinners to a festive meal (Matt. 8:11). [But what about those who spurn His mercy, who reject Him as God, who reject His Son, who fight against His righteousness and divine order, and who join the devil in his never-ending hatred of God and rebellion against Him.] He is a forgiving and loving Father toward them (Luke 15:11-32), not a cruel and sadistic torturer as the traditional view of hell would suggest. What would the goodness of God mean if God torments people everlastingly? Of course, it is not our place to criticize God, but it is permitted to think about what we are saying" (page 149). That's a good idea, to think about what we are saying!
It seems to me that the God of the Bible is being criticized here, and in sad, powerful ways. My primary purpose for quoting this material is to demonstrate that faulty ideas about what God must be like if He is a God of love and is good are being used here to attack Him. It is very important for us to know that God is not on trial - we are (Pinnock would, I'm sure, agree with this statement). Even if the doctrine of hell does not seem reasonable to us, we Christians are compelled to trust God to do what is right and good. For one thing, we do not have enough information or insight to judge God's final judgment of the devil or of men.
I am totally sure that many Christians do not have an adequate understanding of the seriousness of sin. Perhaps none of us adequately understand its seriousness. It is a very serious matter when a high-level being like Satan rebels against God and is followed by a third of the angels, by the demons, and then (to a significant extent) by mankind. Consider the infinite price that God paid in the incarnation and the atoning death of His unique Son, the Lamb of God, to dethrone sin and to save those who will submit to His plan of salvation. I am totally convinced that when God's final judgment is over, after the great-white-throne judgment, our hearts will be full of praise and thanksgiving - with no complaints or suggestions on how He could have done things better. I'll quote further from Pinnock in the next two paragraphs.
"There is a powerful moral revulsion against the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell. Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die. How can one love a God like that? I suppose we might be afraid of him, but could we love and respect him?" (page 149).
"The principles of justice also pose a serious problem for the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell because it depicts God acting unjustly. Like morality, it raises questions about God's character and offends our sense of natural justice. ... Sending the wicked to everlasting torment would be to treat persons worse than they could deserve" (pages 151, 152). I am one hundred percent sure that God knows more about true justice (and love and goodness) than we do, and that He will always do what is right, and good, and necessary. We can, and we must, trust Him. And, again, God is not on trial!
Many Christians have accepted worldly, far-from-the-Biblical-balance ideas about God's love. I am afraid that many who call themselves "Christians" are not interested in the God of the Bible; some are only interested in a caricature of God derived from what man (sometimes with the help of the devil, even as the devil helped Eve see the truth in the garden) thinks God must be like to be acceptable to man, or to be worthy of the worship of man.
There are many things that we do not know or fully understand (at least not yet); the Bible has not revealed them to us, but I am confident that when the devil, evil angels, demons, and many men are cast into the eternal lake of fire it will not be because God has a hard time forgiving, far from it. I believe that the dominant factor will be that those persons never will repent, and it would be impossible for them to have a place in God's eternal kingdom without causing perpetual havoc. They would not love God, or His truth, righteousness, holiness, people, etc. They would not want to have a place in God's eternal kingdom on His terms, not that they will want the alternative.
We very often hear that there must not be a God, or even if there is a God, He must not be a good, loving God, because of all the problems in the world, problems like hunger, warfare, strife, natural disasters, plagues, and sicknesses of the inner man and of the body. Some think that God should make everything go smooth on the earth while mankind (including many who say that they are the people of the God of the Bible), for the most part, continues to reject Him, His Son, His truth (His Word), and His righteousness. And that is only part of the problem, not only do men reject God and substitute things like secular humanism, evolution, and the god of science in His place, but they typically, whether directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, submit to and fellowship with Satan and his hosts through things like false religions, the occult, psychic powers, and demon worship, things which are forbidden in the Bible. People cannot be neutral; if we do not pursue God with all our hearts, based on His Word, we will be influenced by the devil to one degree or another. He is the "god of this world." He works in the sons of disobedience (cf. Eph. 2:2).
The Bible promises that God will come and make things right on the earth; the day of judgment is coming. Our top priority must be to get ready for that day. Then we will be able to judge God and straighten Him out - No! It does not work like that! We will be the ones who are judged. Every time we take a stand against God and His truth and righteousness, we hurt ourselves.
May God's will be fully accomplished through this paper!