The doctrine of universal salvation is gaining popularity within Christianity. Is this doctrine legitimate? Should we regard it as a serious alternative to our traditional notions of eternity?
There are different varieties of universal salvation—some of them base their ideas on the Bible more than others. But one thing unites all the Universalists, namely the idea that at the end of all things, when God is “all in all,” He will have reconciled everything and everyone with Himself. In other words, in the end there will be no lost people and no fallen angels, but all creatures will be saved through Jesus Christ, including those who rejected Him.
We have to reject this idea of universal salvation on the basis of the whole concept of the Bible, for the following reasons.
As attractive as this idea may be, it is no more than a Christian philosophy and speculation that goes beyond God’s revealed Word. Paul warns us with the urgent words, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). And in another place he emphasizes, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The Bible goes so far as to say that all human ideas, which are not unconditionally submitted to the Word of God, are incapable of recognizing God and His truth. Human philosophy is darkened by sin, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).
The Word of God alone can be our measure—especially in view of eternity. And when the Bible does not give us a clear answer in certain matters, our interpretation must not go beyond the knowledge it gives us. If we do this, however, it is pure speculation and can end in a false doctrine.
Unfortunately, the doctrine of universal salvation shows that it goes beyond the Word of God. Universalists use the statements of God, but take them out of their context. A favorite verse of theirs is 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” If you quote this verse on its own, then it is often overlooked that the Bible itself clearly defines who is meant by “all.” In the next verse, Paul limits “all” to “they that are Christ’s.” The resurrection to eternal life only applies to those who, through their faith in Jesus and His work of salvation, are saved (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 3:28; 10:14). “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Universalists believe that 1 Corinthians 15:28 corroborates their position, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” Here they see proof of the idea that in eternity there cannot be two different groups (the eternally saved and the eternally lost). In this text it is not about individual salvation, but God’s universal reign. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus Christ Himself testifies to the fact that there will be two different groups (Matthew 25:31-46).
Another Bible text that is used as proof of Universalism is Colossians 1:19-20, “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Here it stands, in black and white, that ultimately everything and everyone will be reconciled with Christ—this is their argument. But if we read the words of the apostle Paul further, we see that this reconciliation of all things for people is dependent on our faith here and now, “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard” (verse 23). Paul himself believed in a permanently lost condition of those who reject Christ (Romans 2:12; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2:10).
Reconciliation is only possible through faith (John 20:31; Romans 3:22, 25, 28, 30; 5:2; 11:20; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Galatians 3:26; Colossians 2:12). In the future, all have to submit to Christ; this is not the expression of faith, but the victory of Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). Subjection is not necessarily reconciliation, but the unconditional surrender of an enemy to a victor.
However, the emotional and understandable objection is, does the doctrine of permanent condemnation fit in with the nature of God? He is love (1 John 4:7-8). There is no question that God is love, but this truth cannot be separated from the whole nature of God. He is also perfect righteousness (Psalm 116:5), perfect light (1 John 1:5), and eternal holiness (Revelation 4:8). Under no circumstances may we emphasize one characteristic of God over the other, but we must let the Bible stand as it is.
Therefore, we must also reject the idea that “hell” is a place of purifying, as some Universalists think. They teach that in hell the gospel will be preached, and refer to 1 Peter 3:19, “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” Here also there is a fatal conclusion. Peter is speaking of a proclamation, not an evangelization, and uses this example to show how few find eternal life. At the time of Noah, during the long period of his preaching (120 years), ultimately only eight people were prepared to claim salvation for themselves (1 Peter 3:20). “Strait (small) is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). That “hell” is a place of repentance, purification and conversion contradicts clearly the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 16:20-31, where the dead rich man could not bridge the gap between his lostness and paradise.
Let us close our thoughts with a last point. Representatives of Universalism emphasize that the “eternity” of which the Bible speaks does not mean infinity, but a limited period of time. Here too, however, we must consider the context. Jesus Christ said, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:46; cf. Daniel 12:2-3). Thus, for Jesus Christ eternal torment and eternal life are of the same duration. Why eternal torment should be limited and eternal life not is inconceivable. Paul also thinks this. There are these two destinations; namely, “indignation and wrath” or “eternal life” (Romans 2:6-10; cf. Revelation 21—22). The Bible knows no intermediate path, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
The doctrine of universal salvation is a false doctrine, because it questions the authority of the Word of God and purports to know more about the nature of God than Jesus Christ and the apostles. You can call me merciless, but one thing you cannot accuse me of is infidelity to what Jesus Himself taught. I want to hold fast to His doctrine, as our Lord said in John 14:21, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.”