Question: Do you see God's calling and election as universal or limited? In other words, does every person receive the same opportunity to be saved? Is there true free will that allows us to either reject or not reject God's call?
Great question. It is really asking for a discussion on universal justification. Did Jesus die for the sins of all humans for all of time or did Jesus just die for the sins of those who are believers. Here it is in all of its glory: Jesus died for the sins of all people for all of time. In other words, yes, I believe in universal justification. God’s Son paid for all the sins of all the world, yes, for all the souls of all of time.
In truth, I believe it has to be this way. If salvation is by grace, truly and only by his grace, there can be no other kind of justification. If you teach that Jesus died only for those who would believe then the next question you need to ask would be, “How do I know I am a believer that Jesus died for?” That question opens the door for all sorts of false interpretations and sometimes subtle and sometime gross pronouncements of work righteousness. In other words, you must answer, “I am a believer because...
A. I obey Jesus. B. I feel God loves me. C. God has spoken to me. D. (Any other work righteous or self-righteous argument you would like to insert.).
Let me share with you exactly what justification is. It is God’s legal pronouncement or declaration of the innocense of the soul before him. It is not a pardon on God’s part, but the absolute declaration of the innocense of the individual sinner because of the forgiveness of sin that Jesus won for that soul. Yes, I am saying that on the cross Jesus paid for all the sins of all the world. Every soul’s sin was paid for from the beginning of time to the very end of time. No one is exempt. No one is forgotten. God in his great love for mankind took out on his Son Jesus the punishment for the sinners of the world.
Now do note that this “universal justification” is known in my circle as “objective justification.” In other words it is what God has done. It is an accomplished fact that no man can ever change or alter in any way. It’s like the sun in the sky. You can, let’s say on a cloudy day, deny the existence of that sun, but your denial nor the clouds make your unbelief true. The sun is still there. It is still shining and sitting at the center of our galaxy just as God made it. Or the other example I like to use to get across the idea of “objective” is to speak of a chair. Once a chair is made it will always be a chair. You can take that chair and rip it apart, throw it in a corner and someone will come in and say, “Wow, what happened to that chair?” It is what it is because someone made it so. Thus in justification. It is what it is because God has made it so. God has decreed, “The sins of all of mankind are forgiven in Jesus.”
Here is the interesting thing. Now we must speak of subjective justification, hearing this knowledge, this declaration of God and making it yours. This is the issue of faith. But, and this is important, the hearing of the declaration of God, this pronouncement of sins forgiven for all in Jesus is the pure gospel and the way God has said he will make us alive (more on this later). Once I know what God has said and done there are two responses man can give. It can be believed or it can be denied. If I believe it that is faith. Faith knows, “My sins are forgiven in Jesus.” Why? Because this is what God has done. God sent his Son, put him on the cross, raised him from the dead and on his behalf and because of his work has opened the gates of eternal life to every soul. I believe because God has given me faith.
Should I chose to deny this or not believe...well that is my choice is it not? In a way it is. Remember that our nature to is to be an enemy of God, blind to God’s truth and marvel and naturally rejecters of the truth of God. Those who don’t believe just go with what Satan has made them. You might say, “By nature I reject Jesus and what he is all about!” This whole thing about God, sin, Jesus, salvation, etc. is nothing but stupidity and utter foolishness to the natural man. He is lost in trespass and sin. That’s where we start. It is not a decision or a choice...it is what we are! It is Adam and Eve hiding in the trees from God and then lying when asked point blank, “Did you eat from the tree?” Our nature is to reject God. Our nature is to consider God foolish and worthless.
(This is the later!) But should you believe, then I want you to know that you believe, you come to understand “My sins are forgiven in Jesus!”, because God has sent his Holy Spirit into your life to “quicken”, to call to faith, to sanctify. We are born again of God because God has worked in our heart and mind and made us new. All credit, all glory, all honor go to God for this great and glorious gift. Otherwise we would not have believed, for that is our nature. God has given us the gift of faith, not because of us, not because of any quality or specialness in us, not because of what He might see in us in the future or any other kind of work you can think of. God has done it and it is of his grace and mercy and that’s the way it is.
Do we chose this? In my way of thinking, No. By nature we can’t even grasp that there is a God or anything about him. By nature we reject any and all notions of God, what Scripture calls “dead in sin and trespass.” Unless God, through his Holy Spirit “wakes” us, quickens us or makes us alive in Christ we are totally and absolutely oblivious and opposed to the notion of God or salvation. Our nature is to remain dead (please note that physically dead people have it in their nature to remain dead, such is the nature of death). But with God’s call to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit we are made alive and heirs of this great gift of God.
God’s gift of salvation is universal since Jesus died for all the sins of all of mankind for all of time. God’s gift of salvation is offered and available to every soul through the work of the Holy Spirit who also happens to work through the means of grace. This is the call to faith also known as sanctification. When we are called from the unbelieving world to the world of faith we are sanctified and this is purely and surely the gift of God. This sanctification is the act of God making us spiritually alive, that is, God giving us the ability to know him and his love. When I believe all credit, glory and honor goes to God for his grace and mercy and his gift of eternal life in Jesus. Yes, you’ve got it, this sanctification is the same as “subjective justification!”
Of course, man can reject the Holy Spirit (the unforgivable sin) and continue in his path of death. That is where the horror lies: this power we have to reject and despise the life that God would bless us with. The majority of men we are told, will do this, will continue in their lives of death, rejecting God and all that is connected with God. The interesting part is that some men have rejected God but think they are full of life. They claim to know God, claim to follow him, claim to honor him and so on. But they reject God’s truth. They don’t believe God has created the world. They don’t believe Jesus died for all. They don’t believe in the reality of hell or even the sovereignty of God himself. Often the worse thing is that they believe that somehow or in someway they must “help” Jesus in the work of salvation. They really follow and believe in a false God. Of course, this might be a whole different topic.
Justification is universal. But the objective message of justification that is from God needs to be heard and believed subjectively. This happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit. He makes us alive, he calls and grants the gift of faith. Without the Holy Spirit we remain dead and lost in sin. He works in us through the gospel in word and sacrament. That soul that has heard even the simple name “Jesus” has been called and offered sanctification. But most, for reasons we don’t know, continue in their sinful nature which is to hate and reject God, but note this isn’t really of our will, it is our natural condition to hate and reject God.
Now if your next question is about our free will, please note that I am a true Lutheran. When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost true free will. They have a limited will in regard to worldly things: we can chose what pants, shirt and other clothes to wear or we can decide what kind of work and job we do. We can even be involved in civic works but remember without faith all works are nothing more than filthy rags before God, that is, no matter how good the world thinks they are they don’t count before God! We do not have the ability to have, do or be spiritually alive without the call of God, the gift of faith. Now in truth, we do recognize that once we are called to faith and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can and do follow the call to sanctification in the next sense and that is that we are lead to hate sin and desire to live lives pleasing to God. We are motivated to this by God and it could be said that we in a limited way do cooperate to the purpose of good works that God may be glorified in us. This sanctification is always motivated by the love of God that God has poured into us and it clearly does not impact our faith in the sense that it gets us further into heaven or closer to God. In Jesus we already have all things, yes full life and forgiveness, fully the gift of eternal life and heaven. Our life of sanctification is but God’s love flowing out of us in works of love. Each person is granted these works as God has blessed them. Some are more sanctified than others, some have greater faith than others, some have greater works than others but all only for the glory of God. It is the Lord who grants this power of works. That’s why it is important to realize this “cooperation” is only limited. Our desires become God’s desires as he grants us this blessing. In truth, we have lost all free will in spiritual matters, but faith does awaken our wills to at least desire in their miserly way, what God desires all and only for God’s glory!