*The reader is reminded that there is a distinct understanding of Hell in the Orthodox Christian tradition. This tradition is based on the original Greek and Hebrew texts rather than faulty English translations.
The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to St. Timothy 2:1-7
Today we are focusing on the Pauline epistle to St. Timothy. In this passage from St. Paul’s letter we heard these words “God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I love this verse. It reminds me that above all God is love. It is His very desire to see all men saved! It is His desire that each and every man, woman and child should know the truth about God’s love as He demonstrated it through His Son Jesus Christ. I am sorry to say that not all people believe that God desires that all should be saved. There are even some “Christian” groups who claim that God chooses who He wants to save from before the foundation of the world. This is a belief called predestination, specifically double predestination. Among those who believe this are the Presbyterians.
Their chief theologian and teacher was a man named John Calvin. Judging from his writings he was a very intelligent man who certainly had zeal for God but as it is written in the letter to the Romans he “has a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” At least not according to proper knowledge. Here is what John Calvin believed in a nutshell and I quote,
“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.” Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3:21:5
This week as I was doing some quiet reading I ran across these words of St. Peter, listen closely: “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” 2 Peter 2:1-2.
St. Peter was speaking of false teachers not only in his own time but in every time. According to every measure that we as Orthodox Christians have, from the Bible to the writings of the Church fathers (with the exception of St. Augustine perhaps), to the sacred canons and living teaching as it has been passed down, John Calvin is one of these false teachers.
Listen again to the quote from today’s reading “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We are not told that God desires only some men to be saved or that He himself chooses to save some to eternity and to send others to eternal condemnation. NO! God desires ALL men to be saved. If you ever wonder where you stand with God, always bring this verse to mind. God isn’t hunting you down, trying to condemn you or punish or curse you. God hunts you only to find your heart. To bring you into an awesome relationship of unending love, because God is love. Salvation in the Orthodox understanding is the saving relationship between God and each human being. This relationship itself opens up the possibility of salvation because God Himself is our salvation and our life and we have no other.
It is true that an element of our salvation is by grace. But grace does not mean that God simply chooses to save some people. Grace does not mean that we play no part in the process. Grace means that God chooses to save all people by allowing His Son to be crucified for our sins. The sacrifice of His Son is a free gift…..or grace. But the Son of God did not die for only some. He died with the knowledge that only some would accept Him and His teachings. He died with the knowledge that others would rebel and that others would believe halfheartedly but would not obey His commandments. But even with this knowledge God sent His Son in the hope that all men would come to know His love for the world through this one pure demonstration of love. What a wonderful God we have, who opens up the possibility of salvation for each and every one of us.
We should be working diligently to bring others to this knowledge of God. When was the last time you told someone “God sent His Son because He loves you”? When was the last time you invited a co-worker or neighbor to join us in this holy place? When people come to the Church there is a possibility of renewal and healing leading to salvation. Do we pray for all people to be saved? That is what God wants for all people. We are called to be like God, to also want all people to be saved. We can’t simply pick and choose who will get to know God. That is a big responsibility, but it is yours and God has given you the tools to fulfill this calling. That is, if you have a heart like God’s. If you really desire that all men should be saved. And Glory be to God forever AMEN.