One of the most dangerous doctrines found in the Church today is Christian Universalism. Universalism is the belief that everyone ever born will be saved by the sacrifice of Christ and will spend eternity in heaven, regardless of whether or not they have placed their faith in Him. This false doctrine is not new, but it does seem to be gaining a larger following even among evangelicals. Those who hold this belief can give a convincing argument, by quoting select scriptures, however, one cannot build a doctrine by quoting scriptures, without context, that seem to agree with one's argument and ignore the whole counsel of scripture. The real question that must be answered: “Is Christ's sacrifice efficacious for all sin of all men or is the sacrifice of Christ sufficient for all sin of all men but only applied to the sin of those who believe? “ Embedded in this question is another enigma, how does the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit fit into the equation?
Christian Universalism, not to be confused with the heretical denomination Universal Unitarianism, can be traced back to the early second century Church with the writings of Clement of Alexandria. Clement, an oft quoted early church father, embraced the idea of atonement for all. Expounding on 1John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world,” Clement espoused that all would be saved, some through voluntary faith, and some through punishment. Origen followed Clement in Alexandria and taught that the consummation of all things would be the utter destruction of evil, resulting in all souls returning to God in perfection. Oddly enough,, Clement is still highly regarded in Christian circles and Origen, his progeny, is considered a heretic by most theologians. Both men were highly influential in their respective times, and due to the influence these two men have had on the early formation of the Church, the heretical doctrine of Christian Universalism has permeated Christian orthodoxy, much like the proverbial yeast of the Pharisees of which Christ warned His disciples.
Christian Universalists rely on numerous texts to make their case, unfortunately for them, they often quote with out context and ignore any passage that disagrees with their premise. For instance, John 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself, seems to make a case for universalism, however, the very next verse gives us the context and purpose of Christ's words: John 12:33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. Jesus was not creating a doctrine, but revealing the fact of His impending crucifixion. Context is key to understanding all of scripture and to pick and choose select passages to build a doctrine is intellectually dishonest. Another oft misused passage is: Rom 11:32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Once again, taken alone, it would be easy to believe this verse makes a case for universalism, but, once again, taken in context, this passage takes on a whole different meaning. Now, the same passage taken in context: Rom 11:30-32 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. In Romans chapter 11, Paul is reminding the Gentile believers that they have been grafted in to the vine of Israel. Clearly, this passage is dealing with the contrast of Jew and Gentile in relation to salvation and all is a collective term referring to the fact that both Jew and Gentile can be saved, as opposed to referring to the salvation of all mankind. To list all the passages used by Universalists would be far too lengthy in this forum, however, one more verse bears scrutiny: 1John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
As in the last two instances, taken alone, 1John 2:2 seems to emphatically state that Christ's sacrifice eliminates all sin in all men. As in the last two passages, the intent of the author is clearly not to establish a doctrine of universal salvation. In this case, the passage is meant to establish that salvation is available to all, as the Apostle John has already revealed to us in the beginning of this letter that salvation is for those who profess faith in Christ: 1Jn 1:7-9 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Only those who walk in the light(of the Gospel) and who confess their sins are cleansed by the blood of Christ. John cannot possibly contradict himself in the same epistle. To dispel all doubt as to John's view of salvation, one needs only look at chapter 3 of John's Gospel. Would the same man who recorded Christ's words: John 3:3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." contradict himself in latter writings? In case there is any doubt as to who is born again, John leaves no room for misunderstanding, later in the same chapter: John 3:18 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, in recording the words of Christ, demonstrates that he cannot possibly be espousing a universal salvation of all men in
1 John 2:2.
Scripture tells us that a matter is determined by the testimony of two or three witnesses. The Old Testament bears witness against Universalism. Psalm 37:34Hope in the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.Psalm 37:38
But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.
But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.
The Psalmist left no doubt that there would be a judgment for sinners and the last part of Psalm 37:38 reveals that there is no future for the wicked. If the death of Christ saved all, regardless of faith, the wicked would have the same future as the righteous.
Isaiah 66:24"Then they will go forth and look On the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me For their worm will not die And their fire will not be quenched; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind."
This passage refers to the eternal flames awaiting the enemies of God. Finally we will look at the words of the prophet Daniel: Daniel 12:2 "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Here, it was revealed to Daniel that at the end of all things there will be those who are resurrected that will face everlasting contempt. These will not be forgiven, they will not be excused and they will not be purged through fire, they will experience everlasting contempt. There is no way to interpret this passage, but literally. Everlasting contempt, by definition, lasts forever.
The New Testament bears witness to this truth as well. The most emphatic passage concerning the damnation of the lost is found in Revelation 20:11-15
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. The only way to hold to a Universalist view, in light of this passage, is to allegorize these verses. Once we begin to allegorize scripture in order to fit our theology, we lose the authority of scripture. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. If what I believe does not match the clear teaching of scripture, what I believe is flawed, not the scripture. Allegorizing scripture is intellectually dishonest and is antithetical to sound doctrine. The Apostle Paul also makes clear the reality of eternal punishment for the lost: 2Thessalonians 1:5-9 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. Again, very plainly, scripture declares that those who are outside faith will experience eternal punishment away from the presence of God.
The flaw of Universal theology is the failure to recognize God's justice. Universal thought focuses on the love and grace of God while ignoring the fact of His righteous judgment. We cannot separate God's justice from His love, nor can we separate His love from His justice. Love without justice leaves sin unpunished and enmity with God rewarded, rendering John 3:18 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, irrelevant. God's justice without love leaves sinners with no hope of salvation. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God's justice demands that He punish sin and His love made a way for man to be reconciled and counted as righteous. To remove either love or justice from our definition of God dismantles the God of the Bible, making Him something that we define based on our own world view. Our understanding of God cannot be shaped by our world view, but, rather, our world view must be shaped by who God is. Anything less is a denial of God and His truth.
Universalism proposes a world where all sin is forgiven at the cross and all men will be saved by the nature of God's unlimited love and grace. Jesus revealed that there was one sin that could not be forgiven, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. For Universalism to be universally true, this statement of Jesus cannot be accurate. The Holy Spirit indwells the believer, but for the unbeliever, the role of the Holy Spirit is to attest to the truth of the Gospel and direct sinners to Christ. When a person dies in a state of unbelief, they have died denying the truth of the Holy Spirit, calling the Spirit a liar, therefore, blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Dying in a state of unbelief is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and cannot be forgiven. If Universalism is true, then Jesus is a liar and no longer God, thus rendering His sacrifice worthless creating a paradox that cannot be reconciled. If Universalism is true, no one can be saved.
The idea of Universalism can be very appealing. It would be very nice to believe everyone we know will spend eternity in Heaven and that God's love will excuse all sin and rebellion. Biblical truth does not allow for such a fanciful notion. God's word shows us, from Genesis to Revelation, that God has provided a way of salvation to those who believe. God's word also shows us, from Genesis to Revelation, that His justice demands that He punish sin and those who die outside of faith in Christ are eternally lost. To subscribe to Unitarianism is tantamount to sending people to hell by not giving them an opportunity to receive God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We can, therefore, conclude that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for all sin of all men but only applied to the sin of those who believe.