I was reading Michael Patton’s recent thought-provoking post, “How to Prepare for Hell- A “Just in Case” Letter to My Unbelieving Friends” and in the comments section someone wrote that to properly share the love of Christ, they feel they must promote the doctrine of universalism (i.e., the belief that all will be saved, whether or not they believe in Christ). They justified this by saying, ” the God we worship will by no means allow the vast majority of the human family to be permanently separated from him and his love for us is greater than the punishment that we deserve.” A few months ago I was writing on universalism quite a bit, in response to the teachings of Rob Bell. This is a theme that continues to be on my mind and heart a lot these days. I believe the teaching of universalism seriously compromises the gospel, appealing to the spirit of the age we seem to be living in, that says love= tolerance of all ways and all truths.
Here is my response to the commenter:
Certainly it is true that God’s love for us is greater than the punishment we deserve! Yet this love for us is always mediated through Jesus Christ alone, as He Himself declares. Unless one believes in Christ, they will die in their sins (John 8:24). No one comes to the Father, except via Christ the Way (John 14:6). If you have the Son, you have the Father, but if you don’t believe in Christ, you make God out to be a liar, for you deny His testimony about His Son (1 John 2:23, 1 John 5:10-12). Eternal life is found in the Son. We know we have the Son, when we believe these things. This in turn causes us to live for Him in this life.
But if universalism is true, there’s no need to emphasize these truths and include them in the presentation of the gospel. Moreover, it is not necessary to preach the gospel at all, since everyone is already on their way to God and heaven, whether or not they have the Son. But the Bible was written and the gospel must be preached so that we might know and believe these exclusive, life-saving, life-changing truths. So that we might find the Son, be found in Him, and escape the wrath that comes on those who remain in their sins. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18).”
The truths about Jesus being the exclusive way to eternal life and to the Father, the only way to be given righteous standing before God and forgiven our sins, are clearly stated. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:9-11).”
Universalism contradicts this, teaching or implying that one’s sins will be forgiven even if one does not know Christ in this life. But God is not obligated to forgive sins and give eternal life to those who reject His Son! Jesus’ purpose for coming was to remove our sins (1 John 3:5), but universalism in effect says we can stand before God in our own righteousness (i.e., apart from Christ) and still be accepted. To share the real love of Christ, tell the truth about sin & how Jesus alone takes away sin. Otherwise the “love” of Christ we share is but sentimentality that keeps people in their sins.
4 responses to “Universalism vs the Gospel”
“in the comments section someone wrote that to properly share the love of Christ, they feel they must promote the doctrine of universalism (i.e., the belief that all will be saved, whether or not they believe in Christ).”
This seems to be more and more common, like Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, proposes. I’m presently in a debate with some atheists at my blog and the subject is the eternal punishment of hell. I agree with Jonathan Edwards and F. Schaeffer that sins against an infinitely holy God require an infinitely valid payment. I’d be interested in your response, if any.
In my understanding, the main problem with sin is the guilt of the sin, which remains indefinitely until there is a pardon and/or or justice.
Then there is the “seriousness” of the sin, which does not relate to the offender, as much as it relates to the offended. For example, If you go 80 miles an hour on a highway you can get a fine.
However, if you or anyone goes that same speed by a construction zone you can get a much higher fine and worse, lose your license. It doesn’t matter so much who is in the car, it matters where the offense occurred and who it was against.
If you have seriously offended the infinite God with rebellion, no amount of construction zone offenses would be able to amount to the guilt of that one offense against an infinite and holy God.
As David pointed out, all our sins and offenses are ultimately against God.
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” Psalm 51.4
BTW, I like how your blog is looking!
My apologies for not responding to your comment sooner. Yes, I have heard it argued that sin against an infinitely holy God requires infinite (i.e., eternal) punishment. This makes much sense to me. It seems mankind in its fallen state, and even believers who are not yet fully redeemed, have great difficulty comprehending the depth of the heinousness of sin against a holy God. Thus we can’t see the necessity and the justice of hell, yet I think this difficulty results in large part from our present vantage point which causes us to see and treat sin so lightly.
So how do we avoid condemnation? Jesus constantly warns against self-righteousness– that is, trying to depend on one’s own righteousness for right standing before God (Mark 2:17, John 9:38-41). But faith in Christ opens our eyes (John 9:39) to see that we have no righteousness apart from what Christ alone achieves and grants to us, when we trust in Him (Romans 4:23-25).
This faith is something the NT teaches we must recognize and appropriate before we die. Today is the day of salvation; we have no warrant from Scripture to surmise we can choose some other way to God other than explicit faith in Christ in this life. Jesus warned religious leaders who doubted Him, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins (John 8:24).” To die in your sins means to be lost and without hope. There are dire consequences to not believing in Christ. One remains in their sins (John 3:36)– the blood of Christ is not applied to you, and therefore you can’t avoid the wrath of God towards sin. Universalism causes people to disregard this urgent reality, and is therefore a dangerous lie.
One should define one’s terms as “universalism” means many things to many people. Christian or evangelical universalism properly defined, does indeed require the preaching of the gospel. The Lake of Fire is a literal place as described in Revelation. The pertinent question is: Is it a place of eternal torment or a place of purification until one bows the knee and confesses Jesus as Savior. Factors such as the meaning of the Greek noun “aion” and it’s adjectival forms such as “aionion” open up the possibility that “hell” is not eternal but defines an age-related period of time. If in Adam, ALL die; is it not likewise possible that in Christ, ALL will be made alive. How can the blessing be more than the curse if in Adam all die, but in Christ all is artificially restricted to only those who believe in Christ in this life? The roots of Christian universalism go back to Origen who was later condemned for some of his views but never for his views on universalism. The teaching that hell is eternal was popularized by Augustine who did not have a command of the Greek language and relied on the Latin translation. Combined with sanctioning Christianity as the State religion by Constantine, the doctrine of eternal hell became a means of State control and the rest is history. Word studies and a study of the early church beliefs is critical to understanding.in this area.
Thanks for your visit and comment, which I hadn’t been aware of until today.
I’m not sure how you conclude from the teaching of the New Testament that the Lake of Fire is a place where purification (from sins) takes place. I don’t see any evidence for this. We are declared righteous by God, not through being purified through punishment at the Lake of Fire, but by receiving the free gift of God’s grace through His Son Jesus Christ (Rom 6:23, 2 Cor 5:21).
According to teachings of Christ Himself not all will enter the kingdom of heaven; some will go away into eternal punishment. Therefore at the judgment, not all will be found “in Christ”. For example in Matt 25:31-46 Christ teaches that there will be 2 categories of people- sheep and goats– and that at the final judgment people will be separated into these categories according to their acts on Earth, which are a reflection of their righteousness, or lack of it.
So the benefits of being found in Christ do not apply to all, since all are not found in Christ– this is a consistent teaching and conclusion throughout the NT (John 12:48, John 3:18, Matt 7:21, Matt 13:30, 49, Luke 16:26, 1 John 5:12). Yet for those who are in Christ the benefit is far greater than the curse brought upon all by Adam, for in Christ not only is sin forgiven and death overcome, but it’s a life that is eternal and a grace that is abundant and unmerited.
Why would it be necessary for John the Baptist and for Jesus to warn people to repent, put their faith in the Son and believe in Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, if in fact it is possible to not do so and still be saved at some point later on, even after death?
To believe that Jesus’ warnings meant nothing, and that it doesn’t matter whether or not one in this life one puts their faith in and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for them, is to negate the work of cross.
I’ll conclude with this passage from Luke:
And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”(Luke 13:23-30 ESV)