Thursday, June 18, 2015

Universalism and the Bible

Universalism – the belief that all will be saved – has become enormously popular today in the West. Why? It coincides with many Western values:

  1. All Inclusive: Not the hated “Us vs Them” Distinction
  2. Human Rights, Human Worthiness, and Entitlement should Include Salvation
  3. A Disdain for Judgment
  4. Humans are not Responsible for their Sins
  5. A God of Love wouldn’t Punish
  6. Hell: An Extreme Punishment
The confluence of these ideas constitutes the perfect storm and provides the impetus to re-envision the biblical revelation. However, the teachings of the Bible will not allow this.

While I would argue that the entirety of the Bible revolts against such an idea, I will just pick out those verses that most directly argue against universal salvation.

Jesus and the Gospels

Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else in the Bible – so much that it would be overwhelming to discuss all of His teachings on the subject. I therefore will not discuss His parables and will confine myself to His more explicit teachings.

  • But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell... If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43)
  • “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it... Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:13, 21)
  • Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
  • Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come... But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:32, 36-37)
  • At the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49-50)
  • “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33)
  • “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels... Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41, 46)
  • and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:29 NIV)
It can also be argued that, implicit to all of Jesus' teachings, there is the absolute distinction between two groups of people – saved and unsaved - whether in this world or in the next:

  • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)
  • For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:25-27)
  • Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)
This distinction between saved and unsaved (as opposed to universalism) is so thoroughly embedded in Scripture that it cannot be removed or revised without undermining the entirety of Scripture.

The Epistles

Although a number of these verses mention “everlasting destruction” instead of “everlasting punishment,” it is not my purpose to decide the nature of everlasting punishment – whether everlasting annihilation or torment – but merely to demonstrate that universalism is not consistent with what the Bible teaches

  • For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)
  • God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)
  • If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God... For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God... But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:26-27, 30-31, 39)
  • In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping... 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... But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish. (2 Peter 2:3, 9, 12)
  • By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:7)
  • And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:11)
  • 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… Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10, 15)
  • Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7-8)
These verses represent only some of the most explicit references to an eternal judgment. However, there are many others that are strongly suggestive, like those which mention the wrath of God, like:

  • Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:6)

Verses that seem to Teach a Universal Salvation

Admittedly, there are a number of these verses that seem to suggest that all will be saved. For example, following the last verse I had cited:

  • Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
Based on the fact that "Christ... is in all," many argue that this means that all will be saved. However, when we read this verse in its context, we find that this pertains to only those who “have put on the new self” (3:10), “God’s chosen people” (3:12), and not to everyone, upon whom comes the “wrath” (3:6).

Several other Pauline verses (Rom. 11:32; Col. 1:19-20; Phil 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 1:7-10) are used in support of “Christian Universalism” – the belief that all will eventually be saved. Perhaps the most challenging one comes from Romans:

  • Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (Romans 5:18)
First Corinthians 15:22 is similar, where we find that all dying in Adam parallels all living through Christ. Clearly, all who are in Adam did die. To apply this parallel point to Christ, all who are in Christ will live. Obviously, this doesn’t mean everyone, but just those in Christ.

Besides, the previous verse makes it clear that only those who are in Christ will be saved:

  • For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
Salvation is only “for those who receive God's abundant provision of grace,” and not for everyone.

  • For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
However, the following verses teach that salvation will not include all:

  • Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith. (Colossians 1:21-23)
Salvation is only for those who continue in the faith. What then does it mean that Christ will “reconcile to himself all things?” Perhaps it only refers to all those left at the end? In any event, Paul’s concern is that certain people would be disqualified for salvation, an impossibility under universalism:

  • Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. (Colossians 2:18; also 4 and 8)
While universalism claims that, in the end, no one will be disqualified, Paul taught that disqualification was a reality.

Universalists also cite verses that claim that, in the end, all will savingly bow before our Lord:

  • That 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)
While it is true that there will be a great salvation of those who remain at the end and that they will bow down in confession, this only refers to a limited group of people.

Once again, the context rules out universalism. Paul talks about the possibility that his preaching might have been in vain:

  • Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Philippians 2:14-16)
However, if all will be saved, then, not only Paul’s preaching, but all preaching is in vain. It is all needless.

In fact, if everyone is to be saved, then everything is needless – teaching, preaching, obedience, faith, confession, life, the Christian faith, and even the Word of God. It is all pointless, and there is no adequate reason to resist sin or pursue justice! And we Christians are to be mocked!

But isn’t eternal punishment a cruel and unjustified punishment? Not necessarily. Paul claims that we are self-condemned:

  • For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict [“condemnation” in other versions]: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)
For one thing, the Father has given the responsibility for judgment to the Son. However, the Son does not judge either! Who then does judge? It seems that we are condemned by our very choice to reject the Lord, and this self-condemnation continues throughout our life in the form of our rejection of the light and our love of the darkness. There is no reason to believe that, in the next life, we will suddenly love the light of Christ presence and come repentantly to Him. In fact, Scripture seems to support the truth that we will continue to hate the light.

Perhaps God will even grant these pathetic creatures – those who cry out for a drop of water and not the light of God - the choice to end their existence. However, this is purely conjecture.

In any event, love compels us to warn rather than to extend to the unrepentant a false but comforting hope, one that God does not offer. To follow God means to walk in His light and not in our own, following the fashions of our society.

No comments:

Post a Comment