We might … enquire whether this universal salvation renders our historical lives pointless. If, in spite of what we have done with our lives, God will nevertheless save us, then why worry about any moral seriousness, repentance, striving, and faith? But when it is put this way it makes it sound as though the only compelling and legitimate motive for moral effort is the desire to be rewarded for goodness. I have already suggested the inadequacy of this motive for Christian ethics and existence. Christians strive morally because of what they know about their own and others’ forgiveness in Jesus Christ. They are moved by gratitude and love, not by the selfish hope that it pays in the end to be good. For the Christian, there is great point to her historical life precisely as the experience of sanctifying growth …
Further, I would argue that anyone who says, ‘Why be faithful if God will save all in the end?’ does not in fact properly understand what the Christian means when she says ‘God,’ ‘faithful,’ and ’saved by grace.’ What appears to be meaningful talk is in fact empty of Christian intention, point, and content.
But won’t persons use this view as an excuse for ignoring the Gospel and the call of the Spirit, because it doesn’t pay to believe the Gospel? Why be a Christian if there is no dual destiny between Christian and non-Christian? But surely Christians are not believers in order to have some advantage over non-Christians, and Christians should have no interest in a salvation that logically requires that some others be damned. Such motives and reasoning are the opposites of Christian humility, gratitude for grace, and love.
Even more one might sharply ask whether my position is the epitome of so-called cheap grace. But the point of cheap grace talk is not that grace is really conditional. Rather, the target is that some folk speak of being saved by grace, but saying this makes no concrete difference for how they should live before God. Anyone who confessed salvation by grace alone but who did not actually live a transformed life would be cheapening the grace confession and would be misunderstanding the language of grace. Certainly we are not to think that the opposite of ‘cheap grace’ is ‘earn your own salvation.’
…. Living in the Spirit of Jesus Christ is a concrete and definite saving that makes a difference in one’s life. The images of hell and damnation remind us of the threatening potential of sin, while the teachings of hope in God’s grace persuade us that the domain of hell — however persistently it stalks and demeans our historical existence — is finally and ultimately empty!
It should be pellucid by now that the ultimate salvation that I am espousing is to be sharply distinguished from any so-called universal salvation that liberally and optimistically considers humans ‘good enough’ to achieve their own salvation or to deserve it. The universal salvation I posit is founded on the atoning work of Jesus Christ as the authentic self-revelation and self-communication of God’s reality. The gracious God has done this and is this and will be faithfully gracious in the future.
From “Schematic Reflections on Salvation in Jesus Christ” in Joe R. Jones, On Being the Church in Tumultuous Times (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2005), pp. 117-19.