Excerpted from “God’s Good News For All People” by Chris Stetson
Finding the True Path of Christ
Millions of people today are coming to the belief in universal salvation. Many of them are sincere, Bible-believing Christians. They attend churches of various denominations and come from diverse backgrounds. Each one has a unique story to tell of how God led them — sometimes gently, sometimes dramatically — to move beyond their former belief in eternal hell and rigid church doctrines and to embrace an inclusive view of salvation and an optimistic view of God and His plan for our lives and our universe. My own story is told in this book, and this introduction to Christian Universalism is the fruit of my desire to share what I have learned about the Gospel with others. The reason I wrote it is so that many more people will have their own stories to share — discovering a different kind of Christianity and being transformed from the inside out by the knowledge of God’s unconditional and all-consuming love.
This might be your first time learning of any kind of Christian Gospel other than the harsh message of fundamentalists, who have told you you’re going to hell unless you belong to their church, or unless you pray a certain way or believe certain religious teachings — who have told you your loved ones who died without professing faith in Christ are lost forever. You may have followed this religious system out of fear of doing otherwise or because you were raised to believe it. Or you may have rejected it in disgust and thrown God out of your life along with the nasty fundamentalist Christian creed. I invite you to consider the alternative, the Good News Gospel of Christian Universalism that is the original message of the Christian faith. It is a message that our hurting world desperately needs to hear today. It is a message that can truly change souls rather than just “winning” them.
In this book, we will examine the Biblical alternative to Christian Fundamentalism: the positive and uplifting view of Christianity called Christian Universalism. We will discover that the Bible, when properly translated and interpreted, supports the optimistic view of salvation called universal or ultimate reconciliation, rather than the more popular ideas of eternal damnation or annihilation of the wicked. We will discuss some of the objections people commonly raise to Christian Universalism and answer them. We will explore some of the more profound implications of the universalist interpretation of Christianity for the nature of God, the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and human nature and destiny. We will survey the history of Christian thought concerning salvation and the fate of those who do not follow Christ in their life on earth, and we will see how the rise of the doctrine of eternal torment led to terrible consequences both in society as a whole and in the lives of individual Christians. We will discuss the rebirth of universalist theology in modern times, and we will consider the importance of the Good News of Christian Universalism in today’s world, with the frightening rise of religious fundamentalism — both fundamentalist Christianity and other extremist forms of faith — that is the source of increasing levels of division, hatred, and even violence in the name of God.
I hope that readers will see the faith of Christ in a whole new light — the light of truth as revealed in the Bible and in the human heart and mind, free from the darkness that has been spread by ignorant fundamentalism throughout history and in the present day. Christianity is seen in the popular culture as a religion that offers salvation only for believers and the torments of a never-ending hell for everyone else. That must change. Only the universalist form of Christianity can move people to love God with a true love freely given, and to serve God and their fellow man with a depth of compassion that springs only from the knowledge that all people are God’s children and all will meet again one day in our Father’s house.
So let’s turn off the fiery televangelists and throw out the angry tracts that say “confess Christ or else…” and find a real reason to believe in him and walk in the way he showed us so many centuries ago. It is a path that is often forgotten, but which is ever relevant and leads to an outcome infinitely greater than anything that is usually preached from the pulpit. It is a path that leads out of hell and into heaven — a path that all souls someday shall tread. The first step is to discover who God really is, who we really are, and how we have been deceived into thinking the divine path is something very different from what it really is. Trusting in the Spirit to lead us to the truth, let’s begin the journey!
One of the personas of God is the human form. Specifically, the Bible informs us that the historical man Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ (Hebrew: Mashiach, “Messiah”), who is the very embodiment of the divine essence. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). That is why Christians call Jesus “Lord.” Jesus Christ is described in the Gospel as the Son of God, which is a title intended to convey his special relationship and kinship with God the Father. The Son is separate from the Father in the sense that a human being is not the same thing as the Infinite Source of all being; yet in a mysterious way, it is still accurate to refer to Christ as God. Perhaps it is similar to the way a cup of water drawn from the ocean is the ocean, yet it is not the entire ocean. Jesus is divine, but as a human being with the limitations of a physical body, he is certainly not the whole sum of divinity. Here’s another analogy: The relationship of God the Son and God the Father might be likened to the way that we can look at a painting of a man and say, “There is a man.” We can even recognize who it is, if we know the subject. The painting is the image of the man, just as Paul says Christ is the “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
But Jesus Christ’s Sonship is more than just that. Because God is the Father, Christ as Son of God is begotten by God. This idea was demonstrated in a miraculous way through the virgin birth of Jesus. God brought this miracle to pass because he wanted to make the point that Jesus’ Father truly was God, rather than merely an imperfect man. The point is, Jesus is perfect because his Father is perfect — and the only Father who brought Jesus into being was God Himself.
Nevertheless, we should not read too much into the title “Son of God.” It was intended to set Jesus apart as especially holy, but not as totally unique. In the Old Testament, the king of Israel was also described as God’s son. He even was said to have been “begotten” by God, though in a metaphorical rather than literal sense. God says, “I have set my king on Zion, My holy hill.” The king of Israel responds, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you.'” (Ps. 2:6-7 NRSV). This psalm is believed to have been used on occasion of the coronation of a king. It also has significance as a prophecy of the Messiah, who will reign spiritually from Jerusalem over all the nations. It was simultaneously a statement about God’s special relationship with the Hebrew king of the day, and with the spiritual King who was yet to come, who came as Jesus and manifested the fullest reality of the concept of a begotten Son of God.
God as Father does not only apply to God’s relationship with Jesus. Far from it! God says, “I have found David My servant; with My sacred oil I have anointed him. … He will call out to Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ I will also appoint him My firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” (Ps. 89:20,26-27). But not only King David was regarded as God’s firstborn son. Long before he ever received this title, Adam was the son of God — and as the first man on earth, he was the archetype of all men. Unlike other men but like Jesus, Adam had no earthly father. The difference is that Adam fell into sin whereas Jesus overcame it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Adam is also regarded as God’s offspring. In the New Testament, this archetypal ancestor of the entire human race is referred to as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). The implication is that since we are all descended from Adam, we all are in some way the children of God.
“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?…” asks the prophet Malachi (Mal. 2:10). The Apostle Paul answers the question: There is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:6). Paul preached in a sermon to the Athenians that God “is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.'” (Acts 17:27-28).
The word used in Greek for “offspring” in this verse is genos, which implies the relationship of a father begetting a child. Paul could have chosen a Greek word indicating only physical creation such as one might make an object, but instead he specifically decided to use a word conveying the idea of generation, kinship, same-species birth. By affirming the belief of the Athenian poets and philosophers that humans are intimately related and connected to God — not mere creatures like the animals but in fact the very kin of God, sons and daughters of the Spirit — Paul is stating a truth that may strike many Christians today as radical and revolutionary. But this was clearly taught as an important theme of the Gospel in the early church. This idea fits naturally with the teaching in Genesis that Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race, were made in the image of God and therefore all human beings are God’s descendents bearing His divine resemblance. Somehow, this essential Biblical concept has largely escaped the notice of most Christians for hundreds of years.
If sonship is not only for Jesus but for all people, then that means we are all to be like Jesus, manifesting the light and love of our heavenly Father God who is “the Father of our spirits” (Heb. 12:9). Jesus teaches us to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35). Jesus said to crowds of people in his famous Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14).Imagine that! How often do we hear traditional Christian ministers preaching that the divine light is not only limited to Jesus but also resides in us? Jesus continues: “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (vss. 14-16). We are called to openly manifest our sonship even as Jesus did, not hiding it for fear that people may think us arrogant to believe we are the offspring of God. Jesus makes it clear that when we do what is right and good, we are showing our true nature and living up to our station as children of the Divine Light.
Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). He said, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the One who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:44-46). When we call Jesus the Light, we are recognizing that the light of God within him is stronger than our own — even though Jesus said we can also be the light of the world. Knowing Jesus as the perfect Light who came into this world that is filled with darkness means that we understand our need to follow one who has more light than we do, so that we, too, can learn how to be filled with light and spread it to others until the whole world may be filled with God’s Spirit of light and love.
Jesus warned that he was going to die and ascend to his Father, and that after that it would be more difficult for people to follow his path because they would not be able to see his living example. He instructed people to follow him earnestly while he was alive on earth, so that they could learn how to become like him to manifest the divine light as children of God: “The light [Jesus] is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35-36 NRSV). Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means coming into the knowledge of our own sonship, and developing and practicing our capability of living according to the way of light that Jesus showed during his earthly incarnation.
Indeed, discipleship means both recognition of our station as well as action to live accordingly, which is often difficult. Because we are the children of Adam in addition to the children of God, we also have the fallen Adamic nature within us, not only the divine nature. We must struggle to overcome these sinful tendencies and learn to live according to the spirit (Christ) rather than the flesh (Adam). This means rejecting the temptations of darkness and evil we are prone to fall into, and embracing the spiritual path of Christ. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8-10). Our transformation from darkness to light, from our fallen inheritance of corruption and death in Adam to our glorious station of sonship and eternal life in Christ, is a process of awakening to our true potential for which we were originally created. When the morning of spiritual rebirth arrives — at a time and in a way that is different for each person — God says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (vs. 14).