Not all are Called

1 Corinthians 1:

21 For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching.

22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom,

23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

(NET Bible®)

Christianity is not for everyone. When Christians forget, bad things happen: crusades, religious wars, forced baptisms, inquisitions, witch hunts and more. This is not to say that Christians should forgo seeking new converts. Far from it! It’s that Christians should not expect a high conversion rate. It’s just not allowed.

John 6:

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

(NET Bible®)

The Gate is narrow. You cannot force everyone through.

Luke 13:

23 Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" So he said to them,

24 "Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, 'Lord, let us in!' But he will answer you, 'I don't know where you come from.'

26 Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.'

27 But he will reply, 'I don't know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!'

28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out.

29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.

30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

(NET Bible®)

Here’s another quote to this effect:

John 10:

24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."

25 Jesus replied, "I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father's name testify about me.

26 But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep.

27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.

29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father's hand.

(NET Bible®, underlining mine)

The book of Acts has similar language:

Acts 2:

37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "What should we do, brothers?"

38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself."

40 With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, "Save yourselves from this perverse generation!"

41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

(NET Bible®, underlining mine)

Sorry to keep clobbering you with quotes here, but a doctrine this controversial should not be based on only one or a few passages.

Jesus even mixes in the idea that few are Called in the same parable where he describes how Christianity is to spread:

Luke 8:

5 "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled on, and the wild birds devoured it.

6 Other seed fell on rock, and when it came up, it withered because it had no moisture.

7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up with it and choked it.

8 But other seed fell on good soil and grew, and it produced a hundred times as much grain." As he said this, he called out, "The one who has ears to hear had better listen!"

9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.

10 He said, "You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that although they see they may not see, and although they hear they may not understand.

11 "Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God.

12 Those along the path are the ones who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in a time of testing fall away.

14 As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

15 But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance.

(NET Bible®)

Jesus gives us a picture of many people being reached out to, but only a small fraction being converted and doing something with said conversion. Even as he called described Christian outreach, Jesus said only a minority would be truly converted.

In other words, don’t base secular law around a fully Christianized populace. There is no such thing, save perhaps in rare circumstances such as some of the early American colonies which were made up of people who took their religion seriously enough to cross the Atlantic in wooden boats rather than worship at government-approved churches.

That said, the parable above applied to times of persecution. When Christianity is fully allowed or even encouraged by the state, those in the middle two categories are expected to be at least nominally Christian. A Christianity-influenced government is possible.

But when government mandates Christianity for all, it ceases to be truly Christian.

So, how should Christians treat those in the first category: those who refuse to convert even nominally? Let’s look at what Paul had to say:

1 Corinthians 7:

13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him.

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband. Otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace.

16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will bring your husband to salvation? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will bring your wife to salvation?

17 Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches.

(NET Bible®)

Look at that! Nonbelievers are to be tolerated even in the home! Some tolerance for nonbelievers within the same country is also in order.

Some Disturbing Implications

Acts 13:

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began to rejoice and praise the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed for eternal life believed.

2 Corinthians 4:

3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing,

4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.

(NET Bible®)

If Christianity is not for everyone, then neither is eternal life if the passages above and others are to be taken at face value. When most people are not even allowed to be Christian, this strikes many as unfair. And if those not Called are fated to be damned to an eternity of fiery torment, gentle minds revolt at the thought. And thus many Christians reject the lesson of The Narrow Gate.

I, too, struggle with the idea. And so I have dug deeper into the afterlife promises and found things far more nuanced than the popular notion of a blissful retirement in the clouds for Believers and fiery torment below for everyone else.

The very idea of Hell is the result of translation sloppiness. Several quite different words get translated as “Hell” even though the words mean very different things. Some of them mean simply underground. Another refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. The latter is the fiery pit: a burning garbage dump for disposing of unwanted souls. While still a grim image, it is not eternal torment for mortals.

But I have also found indications of hope for many unbelievers of sufficient virtue. The New Testament describes degrees of punishment, not a binary bliss vs. agony.

Likewise, the Bible teaches multiple degrees of reward as well.

There is justice. Maybe even the permission to be a Christian is in part a matter of earned reward:

Ephesians 4:

17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.

18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts.

19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

(NET Bible®)

The Problem of Predestination

Ephesians 1:

4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.

5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will —

6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

(NET Bible®)

Paul wrote of being predestined before the world began. John quotes Jesus talking of people who are already his. Are we but robots following a script? What about Free Will? What of Luke 8:13 which talks about believers who fall away when tested? Are their test results written before the beginning of time?

To me, all the words about reward and punishment are meaningless if there is no Free Will. Then again, everything is meaningless without Free Will. So, to the subject of Free Will we will turn to in the next chapter. Then, will take a closer look at the fate of those who don’t get through the Narrow Gate, and the price to be paid by those who aspire to get through.

Further Reading

See also Matthew 11:25-27, Matthew 13:3-17, Matthew 15:13, Luke 10:21-24, John 6:65, 1 Corinthians 1:18-29, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, and 1 Corinthians 12:3.