In Luke 13:23, the Lord is asked if few will be saved. In that context, the Lord is talking about salvation as it pertains to the Nation of Israel. But the question is often asked in a much broader sense. Will most people in the world be a part of the kingdom of God, or will the number be much smaller?
This issue is related to a discussion concerning Free Grace theology. For many years, my very common experience was that when people heard Free Grace being proclaimed, they would say, “You believe everybody will be in heaven. You preach ‘easy believism.’” That was the response of every Lordship Salvation adherent I encountered. The Free Grace gospel of eternal life as a free gift with no strings attached, and that can never be lost, was not hard enough. If the Free Grace gospel were true, then having eternal life is so easy that everybody who calls themselves a Christian will be in the kingdom.
This is definitely the most common reaction I still get from people in other countries. Most often they use the term hyper-grace to describe Free Grace. In many of these countries, “going to heaven” involves a lifetime commitment. Salvation can be lost and, only with much effort, regained. It can then be lost again if you sin, especially if it is a “big” sin.
But a strange thing has happened recently. Here, in the U.S. at least, the exact opposite reaction is often found. When a person preaches that the unbeliever must believe that Jesus gives them eternal life and that, at the moment of faith, the gift is received forever, many people say that is too hard. They point out that very few people believe that. Very few people have ever had assurance of eternal life. The vast majority of people in churches believe that you have to earn it in various ways. If the Free Grace gospel is the gospel that saves a person from the lake of fire, then very few people will be in the kingdom.
I find that interesting. When people understand the Free Grace gospel, different people view it from opposite ends of the spectrum. Some say it is too easy and that, if true, everybody will be saved. Others say it is too hard and that, if true, hardly anybody will be saved. What accounts for such widely divergent views of the same message?
Perhaps those of us who proclaim the Free Grace message are not clear. We could all do a better job of communicating the wonderful message of eternal life that the Lord guarantees to all who believe in Him for it. We could all improve upon explaining that at the very moment you believe His promise, you have assurance of eternal life. We need to remind ourselves that there are many sitting in church pews who have never believed that message.
Another reason for differing views concerning the Free Grace message is probably cultural. In some places in the world, there is a very heavy Arminian influence. Losing one’s salvation is seen as being very easy to do. Those in that environment will be scandalized at the idea that one can know he has eternal life that can never be lost. In such a setting, the Free Grace message is seen as being too lenient, letting too many people “in,” and giving false assurance.
In a different theological environment, the Free Grace message is seen as scandalous in another way. We all know “good” Christians who have always rejected the Free Grace gospel. Church history is full of entire denominations that have done so. How can we possibly think that all these groups and wonderful people got it all wrong, while we have it right? How can we entertain the possibility that these people will be excluded from the kingdom if, indeed, they never believed the gospel of grace? Free Grace people must think they will be the only ones there. In this environment, the Free Grace message is seen as being too stringent; it doesn’t let enough people in.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? People can hear the same message, understand the messenger correctly, and come to completely opposite conclusions. With a little thought, however, the Free Grace proponent will not find this surprising. The evil one can blind a person’s mind in various ways (2 Cor 4:4). To some he will say it can’t be true because it would mean that too many people would be saved. To others he will say it can’t be true because too few people would be saved!
This whole discussion reminds me of something else. In the theological world, Free Grace theology is a favorite whipping boy. Pretty much everybody likes to take pot shots at it. In the theological debate surrounding the gospel, I find some comfort in knowing that those who oppose the message of grace strongly disagree with one other as to why they do so. Maybe it’s because the traditions and cultures of these opponents–rather than the Scriptures themselves–drive them to their conclusions.