I know what you’re thinking. “Clear my diary because I’ve been waiting for someone to write about exclusionism. Finally!”
No, you’re probably not thinking that at all. You’re thinking, “What’s exclusionism?”
Exclusionism, in the context of grace, is a myth, a yeti. It’s a fake gospel. And apparently, I have been preaching it for years.
Since I have been in the habit of warning people about the dangers of inclusionism, some have taken to calling me an exclusionist. At first, I had no idea what they were talking about.
“Paul, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What are inclusionism and exclusionism?”
They’re a pair of yetis. One is a counterfeit gospel; the other is a strawman.
Inclusionism teaches that humanity was included in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. In other words, every one of us was “in Christ” when he went to the cross. Humanity, whether we believe it or not, is now seated in heavenly places in Christ. I find this hard to swallow, especially since the Apostle Paul spoke of people being in Christ before him (Romans 16:7).
Inclusionism: Jesus carried all of humanity on the cross
Exclusionism: Jesus carried some of humanity on the cross
The Gospel: Jesus carried all our sins on the cross (1 Pet 2:24)
When Jesus died on the cross, the Apostle Paul was not there. Nor was I. Nor were you. Yet the scriptures attest that we died with Christ (Colossians 2:20). When did that happen? Did it happen 2000 years ago? Inclusionism says yes, but the Apostle Paul said it happened, “When you heard and believed the gospel.”
You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV)
Once upon a time, you were disobedient to God (Rom 11:30). Once upon a time, you were captive to the lusts of the flesh (Eph 2:3). Once upon a time, you were “foolish, deceived, and enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (Tit 3:3). Then you heard and believed the good news of your salvation and everything changed. The moment you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and placed in Christ, you became a brand new person.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)
The instant you were placed in Christ, you got a new life – his life. His past became your past. This is why Paul could say he had died with Christ even though he wasn’t at Calvary. It’s the same for all of us who have been joined in union with the Lord.
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom 6:3)
“Paul, why do I need to know about inclusionism/exclusionism?”
You don’t. Like hunting Sasquatch, it’s not a good use of your time. But there are pastors, leaders, and authors who have spoken boldly against the dangers of inclusionism and who, like me, have been branded an exclusionist for doing so. This is for them.
Calling a grace preacher an exclusionist is an oxymoron. Grace is inclusive by nature. Jesus died for every single one of us, from the greatest to the least. Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone from the table of his abundance but he invites ALL of us to partake of his feast.
“Paul, now you’re preaching works.”
Partaking is no more a work than eating and drinking. Jesus said, “Truly truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
If you want to enjoy the Bread of Life, you’re going to have to partake of the Bread of Life. If you don’t, you’ll have no life in you. And that’s the bottom line: Life.
The gospel is not about inclusion or exclusion – those words are not found in the Scriptures. The gospel is about the life Jesus gave back then so that you might enjoy his life now and forever more. And where is this life? Eternal life is in Christ (Romans 6:23).
Arguing about who’s in Christ and when they were placed in Christ is a waste of time. We’ve been called to preach the gospel, and I will resume doing so with my next post. In the meantime, “peace to all of you who are in Christ” (1 Peter 5:14).
Bonus Materials: In a related article on Patreon, I recap a recent discussion I had with a dozen or so church leaders on the question, “Is Inclusionism Dying?”