Addressing The Heresy Of Universalism
Universalism is the belief that all people everywhere will be saved. However, this teaching is not only unbiblical, but it is heretical. It undermines the great commission (Matthew 28:19), it neglects the justice and righteousness of God, and it can lead people to think that they have a license to sin. After all, if there is no such thing as prison, one might not be as careful to not break the law as they probably would have otherwise.
The Bible is clear that unredeemed men will dwell forever in hell. Jesus’ own words confirm that the time spent in Heaven for the redeemed will last as long as that of the unredeemed in hell. Matthew 25:46 says, “Then they [the unsaved] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” According to this verse, the penalty of the wicked is just as everlasting as the life of the righteous. Some believe that those in Hell will eventually disappear into nothingness. These people are known as annihilationists; they are people who believe that God only torments the unbelieving soul for a finite amount of time and then reverts the evil person’s soul into a state of nothingness. How long the torment lasts prior to the reversion into nothingness depends on how evil their crimes were. The problem with this view, however is that the Lord Himself confirms that it will last everlastingly. Matthew 25:41 and Mark 9:44 explain hell as “eternal fire” as well as “unquenchable fire.”
Jesus said that God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son to die for their sins. He said “…whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”. Whoever places their faith in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. However, what Jesus says implies whosoever does not believe *will* perish and *will not* inherit eternal life. But John 3:18 leaves no ambiguity: “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”
I honestly have a hard time figuring out how one could possibly bring themselves to be a universalist on exegetical grounds. The Bible is very clear that there is only one way to get into Heaven: faith in Jesus Christ. When Jesus and His disciples were sitting at a table having the last supper, Jesus told His disciples sitting with him “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) and The Apostle Peter, when preaching in the temple shortly after Pentecost said “And there is salvation bin no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
I do agree with the universalist that God wants all people to be saved. The Bible is unambiguous in stating who God wants saved. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” and 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God “…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” Because God wants all people to be saved, He therefore died for everyone (see John 3:16-17, Hebrews 2:9, 1 John 2:2) and because He died for everyone, He therefore sends grace to all people (see John 12:32, John 1:4, John 1:9, John 16:9) to overcome their inability to repent (see John 6:44, John 6:65). However, not everyone will respond positively to God’s grace. God’s grace is not irresistible. It can be resisted (see Acts 7:51). God has given mankind a choice (see Deuteronomy 30:14-19, Joshua 24:15). Some choose to not walk through the gate that leads to life. Some choose to walk through the gate that leads to death and destruction (see Matthew 7:13-14), the gate that leads to Hell, the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Psalm 112:10, Matthew 8:12, Matthew 25:30 Luke 13:28). And this will be the case not just for humans, but demons too! All of the demons who had spent their time on Earth tempting people to do evil, trying to thwart God’s purposes, and leading people away from eternal life likewise will be thrown into the fires of Hell. Revelation 20:10 says “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
However, God doesn’t want that. Again, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), He “…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” This is why Jesus died on the cross for “everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), for “the world” (John 3:16-17), for “the whole world” (1 John 2:2). This is why He sends prevenient and resistible grace to all people (see John 12:32, John 1:4, John 1:9, John 16:9). The Bible even seems to indicate that God takes great displeasure when someone doesn’t repent and ends up in Hell. In Ezekiel 18:23, God asks rhetorically “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” This implies that God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked and His preference is for the wicked, instead of perishing in their sins, would instead turn to Him to receive mercy and forgiveness? Why? Because He loves them so deeply! God repeats Himself several verses later. In Exekiel 18:32 God says “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” God repeats Himself once again in Ezekiel 33:11. He said “'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, **he wept over it** and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." – Luke 19:41-44
Here, Jesus is weeping over the coming judgment on the people of Jerusalem. Now, this passage reveals a lot of things to me about God’s attitude towards judgment. Number 1, it tells us that, like Ezekiel 18, God takes great displeasure in the death of the wicked. Jesus was weeping over what would happen to these people because they rejected Him as Messiah. We can infer that He was weeping over their eternal damnation because millions of Jews were slaughtered by the Romans in AD 70 (according to the Jewish historian Josephus), and if they died physically while dead spiritually, that means their souls went to Hell. So Jesus is anticipating these people getting killed by their enemies and God having to send them to Hell for rejecting Christ (see John 3:18 and John 8:24).
The Bible clearly and unequivocally teaches that there is a place called Hell and that those who do evil and reject God’s provision for being saved will be sent there. The Bible teaches that God loves all people without exception, so yes, the universalist is correct in teaching God’s universal love and telling us that God wants all people saved. Where he errs is in stating that because of that, everyone actually will be saved. God has given us a choice between Heaven and Hell, between good and evil, between a life worshipping God and life living in sin. No one can repent on their own due to total depravity. But thankfully, God sends grace to all people to both enable them to exercise their free will and also to persuade them to repent. Not everyone will respond positively to God’s grace unfortunately. Many people will spurn God and reject Him until the day they die. For those people, God grieves over them. He mourns over them like a parent weeping over a dead child.
The punishment of evil human beings (and demons) in Hell is described all the way through the holy Word of God as “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41), “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), “shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2), a place where “the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44-49), a place of “torment” and “fire” (Luke 16:23-24), “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), a place where “the smoke of torment rises forever and ever” (Revelation 14:10-11), and a “lake of burning sulfur” where the wicked are “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Therefore, there is no good reason to be a universalist, and EVERY good reason to NOT be a universalist. The Bible is clear: not everyone will make it into Heaven. There is a Hell, and sadly, people go there.
Objection: Philippians 2:10-11 Tells Us That Everyone Will Bow Their Knee To Christ Someday.
What might the universalist say by way of response of what I’ve written here? Well, one argument the universalist might try to give is a passage found in Paul’s epistle to the church in Philippi. Here, Paul says “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) So, the universalist might argue; since scripture says that every knee will bow and confess that Christ is Lord, and since Paul elsewhere says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord that you will be saved (Romans 10:9) and some day, every person will confess that Jesus is Lord, then it follows that everyone will be saved. Is this true? Is Philippians 2:10-11 endorsing universalism?
First, it’s important that we keep this exegetical principle in mind: always interpret the unclear scriptures in light of the clear scriptures. Since The Bible overwhelmingly teaches in SO MANY different places that some people will end up in Hell, I think it’d be best to interpret Philippians 2:10-11 in light of those scriptures (i.e the onces I referenced to above). I think that in light of what all of the above referenced and/or quoted scriptures say, whatever Philippians 2:10-11 means, it cannot mean that everyone will be saved. If that’s the case, what does it mean?
First, Romans 10:9 doesn’t JUST say that you must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved. It does say that, but it doesn’t ONLY say that. It says that you must confess that Jesus is Lord AND “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” Verse 10 goes on to say “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
It is not merely enough to believe THAT God exists, THAT Jesus is God, THAT Jesus rose from the dead, etc. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe all of this stuff and yet they’re on their way to Hell! Even Satan believes that God exists. Satan believes that Jesus claimed to be God and that He proved it by rising from the dead. Satan intellectually acknowledges the truth of the creeds of the church. But he’s not saved. We know he’s not saved because Revelation 20:10 says God is going to cast him into the lake of fire one day where he’ll be tormented forever and ever.
It’s not merely enough to acknowledge the truth of these aforementioned facts. You must also act on it. One must place their trust in Jesus Christ (John 3:16), one must turn away from the life of sin they were living before (Isaiah 55:7) and then confess their sins to Jesus and ask Him to forgive them. 1 John 1:9 says that if we do that, if we confess our sins to Jesus and ask Him to forgive us, then He will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. And once we do that, The Holy Spirit will come into us and will make us born again. Jesus said "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.". Based on this, Richard Bushey of ThereforeGodExists.com once put a sign up at his church that said “Confession of faith is not enough, you must be born again”.
Now, this is not a works-based salvation that I’m endorsing. I’m not saying you must do a consistent amount of good deeds in order to stay saved. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Rather, I’m saying that merely acknowledging propositions does not equate to salvation unless you repent of your evil acts and ask God to forgive you for the sins you’ve committed. Satan and the demons haven’t done this. Therefore, they aren’t saved. Satan and the demons haven’t repented and asked God for forgiveness. They only acknowledge the propositional truths of the Christian faith.
What I think is happening in Philippians 2:10-11 is that Jesus’ second coming occurs, everyone sees him “coming on the clouds of Heaven” and realizes that whatever religion or worldview they adhered to previously was a false religion. The unbelievers will no longer be able to talk themselves out of believing that Christianity is true (Romans 1:18) and they will bow down out of fear, knowing the judgment that is about to come, so afraid that they even tell the mountains “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Revelation 6:16). People will confess “Jesus really is God after all! We were wrong when we mocked those who said He was coming again!”
In other words, what’s going on in Philippians 2:10-11 is mere intellectual acknowledgement of God’s existence, Christ’s divinity, and His sovereignty. They are not repenting and receiving Christ as their Savior and being forgiven of all their sins, thus avoiding eternal damnation.