Universalism and inclusionism are twin towers built on the same foundation, which is this:
When Adam fell, he took all of us with him. We had no choice in the matter. If Jesus only saves those who meet certain conditions – those who repent, believe, etc. – then first Adam is greater than last Adam. Since that cannot be true, then Jesus must save everyone.
If you think everyone will end up in heaven saved, you are a universalist. But if you think everyone is already saved, they just needed to acknowledge it, then you are an inclusionist. Since I am neither, I am often hit with the two-Adam argument, which goes like this:
Just as the human race was in Adam when he fell, the human race was in Jesus when he went to the cross. Say otherwise and you’re elevating Adam above Jesus.
The two-Adam argument comes from Romans 5 where Paul compares the damage done by first Adam with the redeeming work done by Jesus, a.k.a. last Adam. The key phrase is “how much more,” which appears in this verse:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Rom 5:15)
Paul’s point is that last Adam did a greater work than first Adam. Grace is greater than sin and the gift is greater than the trespass. This is such a wonderful revelation that I have written a study note on it. It’s called Last Adam’s Greater Work and you can download it for free. Read it and you will learn justhow much more Christ has done on our behalf.
The two-Adam argument: 5 problems
If the two-Adam argument is true, then everyone is either saved or will be. This is surely a happy outcome, and one we all long for. But there are at least five problems with the two-Adam argument.
1. If Jesus merely raised those who had been killed by sin, then his is not a greater work; it is acomparable work, an equivalent work. There is nothing “how much more” about it.
2. First Adam took us down against our will. This is an outrage because we had no choice in it. In a sense, we were violated by Adam’s trespass. But if last Adam did the same thing in reverse, then we have been violated twice. You had no say in it. Some will say the ends justify the means, but I say two wrongs don’t make a right.
3. Universalists and inclusionists love Romans 5:18 which talks about how Jesus’ one act brings life for all men. “All means all.” Then why does Paul refer to “the many” in verses 15 and 19? Many means many, not all. Paul never says all have been or will be made alive. He says life has come and is now freely available for all men. (For more, read the note.)
4. The universalist/inclusionist conclusion that all will be/have been saved ignores the prerequisites for life that Paul stipulates in the preceding verse, namely, receiving God’s abundant provision of grace (Rom 5:17). Since grace is accessed through faith, unbelievers have not crossed over from death to life (Joh 5:24). If you refuse to come to Jesus to receive life (Joh 5:40), how can you have life?
5. If universalism/inclusionism were true, then God made a mistake by giving Adam the freedom to choose. Somewhere along the way he changed his mind and decided this whole free will thing was too risky. Adam had a choice but you get none. If this were true then you’re not free, God makes mistakes and he doesn’t trust you. How is that good news?
The two-Adam argument diminishes the cross
On account of Romans 5:18, universalists and inclusionists claim all will be or all have been saved. Their thinking is that just as Adam’s sin tainted 100% of humanity, Jesus must therefore save 100% of humanity. (Actually he must save more than 100% if his is a greater work, but never mind.)
But this is to miss the point of the cross. Jesus didn’t come merely to undo Adam’s harm but to give us what Adam never had in the first place, namely, his life.
We tend to imagine unfallen Adam as a superstar but he isn’t a patch on Jesus. Adam was called to reign but didn’t. Adam was called to fill the earth with godly offspring but failed. And since Adam was never filled with the Holy Spirit he only ever experienced God at arm’s length.
The newest Christian has advantages infinitely superior to what Adam had. Adam occasionally talked with God, but we have God living permanently within. Adam knew what it was like to be apart from God but we need never know. God will never leave us. When the devil comes to tempt us the Holy Spirit is right there to guide us in the way of life.
Because of Jesus, we have it far better than Adam ever did. This is the greater work. This is the how much more.
This isn’t about sin
“If Adam’s sin condemned everyone, then Jesus simply has to save everyone. It stands to reason.” I suppose it does if you define salvation as merely “no more sin.” But the new life Christ offers us is much more than that.
“Adam’s sin affected the entire human race, so Jesus has to save us all.” One does not follow the other. Don’t you see? This isn’t about Adam’s sin. No one is going down for Adam’s mistakes. His sin, along with yours and mine, were done away with at the cross (Rom 8:3, Heb 9:26). To say “Jesus must save us all” is to say he has no choice and we have no choice. But Jesus, the Bible, and history all say otherwise: You have a choice.
This is about love
Okay, here’s the important bit: Because of Jesus we all get the same choice Adam had – the choice to trust God or trust self. Either we will receive the life that God offers us or we will condemn ourselves through unbelief. No one is lost through Adam’s unbelief but their own.
Your freedom is a big deal to God. By giving Adam the freedom to choose, God took a risk he knew would ultimately cost him his life. He did it to show us that he’d rather die than live without us. There is no greater love.
God has not changed. God loves us too much to force himself on us. He wants us to choose him because that’s how love works. Love woos. It doesn’t snatch.
The gospel isn’t the horrific announcement that a God who makes mistakes has taken you against your will. It’s the happy declaration that God is good, he loves you, and wants to share his life with you.
by Paul Ellis
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