Universalism – the belief that God will save everyone – is humanly appealing, but is it biblical? In If Grace is True, Gulley and Mulholland argue that grace is synonymous with universalism:
· The triumph of grace is not complete. It cannot be complete until every last person has been redeemed. Some are experiencing redemption in this life. Some will experience it after their death. But grace will triumph. (196)
Does God’s grace guarantee the salvation/redemption of all? Even though the authors do not believe that the Bible is God-given, they offer a number of universalistic-sounding verses in support of their claims. For example:
· “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder.” (Zephaniah 3:9)
Does this mean that everyone from every age will be saved? Clearly not! Two verses later, Zephaniah discounts universalism:
· On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill. (Zeph. 3:11)
Instead, God will only save those who remain after He weeds out the oppressors:
· At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. (Zeph. 3:19)
Instead of universalism, our Lord gives us an unmistakable portrait of two groups of people – those who receive His mercy and those who will not.
This is not to deny that there will be a great salvation in the end among a special group of the elect. Many verses speak about this grace:
1. Rev. 1:7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.
2. Romans 11:15 For if their [Israel’s] rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
3. Isaiah 66:22-23 "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the Lord, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the Lord.
However, as Zechariah indicates, this group is limited to the end-time survivors.
· Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. (Zech. 14:16-18)
The authors also cite Joel in support of universalism:
· “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28)
However, this verse also must be qualified. It cannot pertain “all” the people who ever lived. God is talking about a particular group of people:
· “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” (Joel 2:32)
God speaks of three qualifications. These people who receive God’s Spirit must:
1. Cry out to the Lord
2. Be among the end-time “survivors”
3. Be among those whom the Lord calls to Himself.
In light of this, Joel 2:28 does not provide support for universalism. Oddly, the authors also cite Exodus 33:19:
· “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
God merely affirms here that His mercy and compassion are not given as an entitlement. Instead, He can be selective regarding those He determines to rescue from their sins – the very opposite of universalism!
Since the authors reject the authority of Scripture, from where do they derive their faith? Perhaps from wishful thinking?
Admittedly, the judgments of God are humanly troubling. However, the Apostle Peter warns us that if God has judged in the past, there is no reason to scoff at the many prophesies claiming that He will judge in the end:
· For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly… if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:4-9)
To deny this impending judgment guarantees that we will be judged.