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“We are all created equal.” This is true in a certain sense, for God loves us all and He died for us all, and all human life should be held in the highest regard. However, when we move past generalities and start looking at each individual soul, we discover that we were definitely NOT created equal. We are each created for a different purpose—meaning, that God has a unique plan in mind for each of us. We start picking up on His different plans the moment we notice that other people act differently than we do. We don’t all have the same personalities or temperaments. We don’t all think the same way. We don’t all learn the same way. Each human is like a unique instrument—custom designed to play its own kind of music. Yes, there are a lot of trumpets, a lot of drums, a lot of violins. And if you’re a violin, you feel most comfortable hanging out with other violins. But even when you get among your own kind—people who think and communicate in a way similar to you—you will still discover differences. There is no other human who is an exact clone of you. God doesn’t crank us out in batches, we are each a handmade masterpiece.
What does this tell us about God? He likes variety. No, “like” isn’t strong enough. God is obsessed with variety and He can’t seem to get enough of it. Just look around at His Creation—all the different plants and animals. God could just make one simple worm, but no, he has to make long ones and short ones. Thin ones and fat ones. Smooth ones and segmented ones. God loves variety. This is why Satan comes along and says to us, “Look, that person’s nose is longer than yours—why don’t you go tease them about it and call them names.” But God says, “I love all the different shapes and sizes of My creations.” Satan says, “Look, that person’s skin color is different than yours—that’s a good reason to shun them.” But God says, “I love all the colors of eyes, skin and hair that I’ve created. It makes the world look so beautiful and interesting.”
Pick any area of life and you will find differences—spiritual gifting, natural talents, intelligence, and physical stamina. God has a unique plan for each of us, and it is the details of that plan which determine not just what our experience of this earth will be like, but how long we will be here.
On this planet, no one dies early and no one dies late. This is God’s universe, and He reigns over it with absolute control. So when a child dies at four years old, that is because He only wanted that child to be here for four years. Before He even brought that child into existence, God knew He would make their tour of this planet extremely brief. We didn’t know, which is why we are shocked and devastated. He didn’t tell us ahead of time because He knew that our anticipation of the child’s death would rob us of enjoying those four short years.
There are many adults in this world who have testimonials of how their mother tried to have them aborted, yet God miraculously intervened—saving their lives from medical procedures that most certainly should have killed them. We get all teary eyed and touched when we hear these supernatural survival stories. And we say to ourselves, “Wow, this just proves that when God wants a baby to live, no one can snuff out that life.” Indeed, this is true. But now let’s finish the thought. There are a bunch of other babies who were successfully aborted. They never made it out of the womb. Where is the evidence of God’s power now? It’s right in front of us. The same rule still applies: when God wants a baby to live, NO ONE can snuff out that life. Clearly God did NOT want aborted babies to live longer than they did. He didn’t want them to be born. He NEVER wanted them to be born. Before He even created them, He had already decided that their journey on earth wouldn’t even last nine months and that they’d never experience life outside of the womb. Babies aren’t being ripped off of something God intended for them to have—NO ONE stops God from giving life to one of His own creations. Regardless of what the circumstances are, babies only die for one reason: because God took their souls on to eternity. Now of course when a woman gets pregnant, she has no idea how long God intends for her child to live down here. So when she goes to try and snuff that life out prematurely, she knows she is doing wrong and it is the intentions of her heart that she is judged by. But in the end, she hasn’t really gotten in God’s way. That baby lived out its full time on earth, which was determined by God and God alone. (If you’ve had an abortion and you are struggling to receive God’s forgiveness, see Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You.)
So then, whether we are alive on this planet for 100 seconds or 100 years, we ALL live out the full amount of time which God has allotted for us as part of His unique plan for us. Now that we understand all of this, we’re ready to talk about salvation.
No one can come to God unless God calls them. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sins and illuminates our minds to understand who God is and what He demands of us. Now given what we’ve learned so far about how much God loves variety, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that He doesn’t illuminate us all at the same time in life. There is no universal age at which we can know for certain that every person has received the necessary illumination to make a choice about submitting to Christ as their Lord and Savior. Now God is intimately involved in every detail of our lives regardless of whether we acknowledge Him or not. But He calls some of us while we are young children, while others of us never receive illumination until we are elderly adults. This means that if you hear about a man being saved at 80 years old and you know nothing about him, it is impossible for you to determine how rapidly he is responding to God in his heart. He might have spent his whole life shunning the Spirit’s convictions, or he might be demonstrating instant submission to his first revelation of truth. No one can come to God unless He calls them, and He calls some of us very late in life. Is this a bad thing? Does it mean God is less interested in the souls who He called late in life? Not at all. Remember, God loves variety. We are not all the same to Him—we are unique and He is going for different relationships with each of us. You have your friends you like to go shopping with, and your friends you like to play sports with. There are the friends you joke around with and the friends who you have serious talks with. All of these friends could be great friends of yours, and you really enjoy hanging out with each one of them, yet they are all different. But this is what makes it nice, because you don’t want ten of the exact same friend. You enjoy the variety. You call up different friends on different days because you know who will identify the most with whatever just happened to you. In the same way, God enjoys the variety He has with us.
Now we need to talk about this world. Why does God start us off down here in the first place? Why not just create us all in Heaven and then go on from there? The answer is that this world, with all of its pain and suffering, is a shaping place. Being down here changes us in ways that a perfect paradise will not (see Why did God create sin?). Now God has created us to be eternal beings who will never die. We are also designed to continuously grow and mature. When we reach Heaven, we aren’t going to start spiritually stagnating. There will be tons of new things to learn. For Christians, death isn’t a stopping point, it’s like graduating to an advanced college that offers higher levels of education.
This earth serves two functions: first it sifts out the obedient souls from the rebels—that’s where the free will comes in. God isn’t even interested in continuing His plans with you unless you submit to His Authority. But if you’re really a Christian, you’ve already passed that first test. Now you’re in for the long haul, and now the focus changes to preparing you to serve God well in eternity. Here again, our free will comes into play. For God might want you to do a special task which requires a lot of training on earth. But if you fight and kick and refuse to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, then He is going to scrap His best plans for you and come up with a backup plan that requires less training. The human analogy would be you signing up for the army and being chosen out to be one of the elite soldiers. But you prove to be such a brat during the training courses, that you get demoted to just being one of the regular grunts. You were offered an opportunity to do something extra special, but you blew it because you refused to cooperate. This is what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of giving out different rewards in eternity. Those of us who cooperated with the Holy Spirit down here—meaning we spent more time aligned with Him than we did fighting Him and we sincerely wanted His way in our lives—we will experience God’s best plans for us in eternity. But those of us who fought and resisted at every turn will end up with something far less than His best. From our perspective, it will still be exciting, but from His perspective, we really missed out.
Now remember that God’s plan for you is unique. He already has your eternal career all mapped out and it’s not the same as someone else’s. His eternal plans for you might not require very much earthly training. So He might stall around and not even call you to Him until you’re in the last moments of life. If you come, then all is well. You haven’t missed out on anything because you were swift to respond to God. You aren’t starting at a disadvantage just because He stalled around about calling you. You also didn’t “barely get saved” because God knew He wouldn’t kill you off until He had given you a fair chance to come to Him.
Every day, there are scores of babies dying in this world. It’s pretty safe to assume that a baby hasn’t had the chance to make a willful decision about submitting to God. Yet in these cases, we see that God isn’t letting these souls have any time on this earth to grow and mature through all of the suffering and adversity that this world offers. This pattern tells us that whatever God’s plans for these souls are, they don’t require any prep time on earth. So He just breezes them right on through here—it’s very rough on us, but a sweet deal for the babies. One minute they’re aware of their existence and the next minute they’re with Jesus.
It’s the same with the adult who receives illumination very late in life. Even though they respond to God right away, He doesn’t give them time to mature spiritually. And yet these souls have had experiences that the babies never had—they’ve experienced sorrow, suffering and loss. These experiences have made an impact on them which will set them apart from the babies in Heaven.
Now there’s the group who get saved as young children and then go on to live long lives. Those who remain faithful have a whole lot of time to grow in the faith. This third group is being equipped for different things than the first two groups. And yet because God is obsessed with variety, within every group we find endless variation. Some lifelong Christians have fairly easy lives, while others get brutally pounded on by carefully chosen trials and tribulations. Every individual’s path on earth is different because every individual’s eternal path is going to be different. We’re all being prepared for our next stage of life.
Now let’s look at a fourth group: the ones who the Spirit calls and yet they keep shunning Him. These souls are being most unwise, for as soon as we have had our eyes opened to truth and yet we reject it, we are starting to negatively affect our eternal future. Again, the man who is called late in life yet responds immediately hasn’t wasted any time for he has done the most with what he was given. Yet the man who keeps hearing the truth and keeps blowing it off—he is guilty of willful defiance. He’s in the same boat as the Christian who gets saved and then later decides that he’s tired of obeying God. Anytime we start willfully shunning the Holy Spirit, we are setting ourselves up for eternal consequences.
Now the Christian who willfully rebels is going to miss out on things he could have had with God in the future, yet he’ll still be accepted into Heaven because ALL of his rebellion has been atoned for by Christ (see Will all Christians be equal in Heaven?). But the soul who has not yet become saved and therefore is not yet forgiven—he’s really playing with fire. God only gives each soul a limited number of chances to come. The number is different for each soul. One soul might get ten chances while another gets only two. If they both squander their first two opportunities, one of them is going to Hell while the other will still get eight more chances. It’s not equal. God does not handle us all the same. This is why it is most urgent that we swiftly respond to His convictions all throughout our lives. After we are saved and we’ve received atonement for our sins, the convictions we receive should be viewed as invitations to strengthen our bound with Him. We certainly do not want to waste them—instead, we want to respond quickly to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and embrace His will for our lives.
Are you starting to see how complex the subject of salvation really is? There’s a lot more to it than we realize. We talk about trying to reach the world with the Gospel and we often think that we’re the ones affecting when and how often a soul is illuminated with truth. But as usual, our egos have deluded of us, for we do not have any power to illuminate souls with truth. You’ll get farther preaching at a telephone pole than you will preaching at a soul who the Holy Spirit is not yet choosing to illuminate. God must be involved in the process if anything useful is going to be accomplished. He is the ONLY ONE who can open hearts and minds to understand spiritual truths, therefore He is the only One who deserves the credit for saving us. Oh sure, your mother prayed and your grandmother prayed and your neighbor handed you a salvation tract that saved your life. But if you’ve been applauding human beings for your salvation, you need to stop it right now. GOD is the One who saved you and He is the ONLY ONE you should be praising for the fact that you’re not going to Hell. All the prayers in the world won’t make God force someone to submit to Him. The most brilliant sermons won’t touch a single soul unless God infuses those words with power and drills them into hearts and minds. We humans can take credit for NOTHING—our great reward comes in knowing that we’ve pleased our Master by obeying His orders. This is why you shouldn’t be sharing the Gospel just to please your pastor or to assuage some vague guilty feeling in your gut. You share when GOD prompts you to share, for that is the only time your efforts will count for anything—and they’ll count only because you obeyed God, not because the soul listened to you and turned to Jesus. We really need to unlearn the bad teaching that’s been rammed down our throats about it being our job to save the world. It’s not our job—it’s God’s.
There are two main reasons we get upset about the mechanics of salvation. First, it really bothers us to think that God gives some souls more chances to come than others. Well, this is His prerogative as God. He doesn’t owe us anything. As much as Christians like to promote the Bible as some binding contract that they can wave in God’s face to make Him do certain things, the reality is that God does whatever He wants whenever He wants and He answers to no one. Submission to God’s Authority and an acceptance of the fact that we are His servants, not His masters, is a critical part of maturing in the faith.
Now that being said, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that God dearly loves every soul that He creates. No one ends up in Hell because they never knew the truth. Everyone in Hell got there by willfully defying the Holy Spirit and rejecting the illumination that He gave them. Not every soul rejected Jesus specifically—some of them just rejected the concept of God in general. The Holy Spirit’s illumination process works like this: He presents us with one grain of truth. If we accept that, He gives us another, then another and so on. It’s like teaching a child to read. You don’t just hand them a book, you start by teaching them the letters of the alphabet. Now if they refuse to learn their letters, then you might give up on them and they’ll never learn to read. Others do learn their letters, but when they actually get to the reading part, they refuse to continue. This is like souls who accept the reality of divine beings but they refuse to believe that Jesus is God, and they refuse to accept that He is the only way to be reconciled with Yahweh.
There are no guarantees about how many times the Holy Spirit will allow us to reject Him before He just drops us and refuses to give us anymore illumination. The concept of God giving up on people while they are still alive on the planet is very real and very terrifying. We find examples of Him doing this to people in the Bible, and He continues to do it today. (If you’re concerned about this in your own life, see the posts at the end of this article for help.) What we can be certain of is that God will NEVER reject any soul who is sincerely seeking Him—this is something He makes very clear in the Word. And this is quite easy to understand because we can only seek God if He is calling us to Himself, and God doesn’t call souls that He is no longer interested in saving. So as long as you want to be saved, you can be certain that God is still willing to save you.
The second concern we often have is about souls who never receive illumination from God. What happens to them? Were they predestined to burn in Hell? Certainly not. The only way we get to Hell is by willfully rejecting the Holy Spirit’s illumination of truth. Just as a child can’t be guilty of disobedience until he’s given a rule to follow, so also God does not hold us accountable for defying Him until He knows that He has given us sufficient understanding of His truth. This gets into what we call “the age of accountability”, and we find this topic coming up in the Bible as Yahweh refers to people who “do not yet know right from wrong.” But we must be cautious here, for moral accountability and spiritual accountability are two different things. A child can learn that his society has laws which say it is wrong to steal or murder, but this is not the same as understanding who his Creators are (Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and what They demand of him. It is only when we become spiritually accountable in God’s eyes that we are at risk of going to Hell for our willful rejection of truth. If God kills us before we reach this point, He automatically takes us to Heaven, not Hell. Here is a very comforting truth: God does not damn anyone to Hell who never had the chance to submit to Him.
We’ve already learned that God calls souls to Him at all different stages of life. Though we often think of unaccountable souls as being babies and young children, we must remember that God is a wild card who enjoys making and breaking patterns. It is quite possible for Him to choose to never illuminate a soul who He allows to live a long life on earth. When such a soul dies, he would be immediately taken to Heaven because NO ONE goes to Hell unless they have willfully rejected God’s truth. The general pattern God teaches us is that most adults are considered accountable by Him. Jesus further tells us that most souls will willfully reject Him, so incidents of adults who have received no illumination from the Spirit would be rare. But with God, everything is possible, and we must always leave room for Him to do the unexpected while holding fast to solid truths about His Character. God is good, kind, fair, merciful and gracious. The fear that He cuts certain souls off without really giving them a chance to come is completely unfounded. God is very clear that He wants us all to be saved, and He underscores how merciful He is by making Heaven, not Hell, our default destination if we die without being given the chance to submit to Him. So while God is King and He owes us nothing, He has clearly demonstrated that His heart towards us is very loving, compassionate, and gracious. All three of our Creators love us dearly and They have always made pleasing Them a very simple matter.
Behind the Scenes with God: Mass Casualties
Understanding God: His Obsession with Complexity & Variation
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy
The Illusion of God’s Long-Suffering Patience
God’s Will vs. Human Choice Q&A