On Universalism


Is there a single person in history who has not been elected before coming to salvation? If that’s true (and it is, as the Scriptures clearly indicate), then don’t we just need to wait long enough, knowing that everyone will come around because they’ll finally decide to buck human nature and regenerate their own hearts?

Will God’s saving grace ultimately be extended to everyone, as the Universalist argues? If it will, and everyone has the same destiny, then what is “grace” at all?

Someone from the Peanut Gallery might suggest that Jesus never spoke about the “election” of people to salvation to begin with; thus, it’s ridiculous to even debate about it.

Yet, on the contrary, we can look initially at just a few examples from the Gospel of John and Acts:

  • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)
  • Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (John 15:16)
  • “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

Even the spirit behind true worship that is mentioned to the woman at the well doesn’t imply anything other than the Holy Spirit, an idea which is right in line with those of John 3:5 a chapter earlier: “Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit [read: regenerated], he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

And if the spirit in John 4:23 refers to intentionality, then what about the spirit only a verse later? Is the “Holy Spirit” just symbolic of intentionality and emotion? Is a Christian merely someone indwelled with emotion? And what about Jesus’ final point in the same passage, that “the Father is seeking [emphasis mine] such people to worship him”? How does that not imply God finding us, choosing us: an election on the part of God?

Even when I read the entire Sermon on the Mount, I see this little caveat: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Of course, Christ is not talking about a righteousness that a person can assume out of mere good intentions. The only salvific righteousness is that which comes by faith.

Is this doctrinal?

It this dogmatic?

You bet it is.

If every unrepentant sinner in the history of the world spent eternity in hell, it would be completely just. The divine act of non-justice, mercy through Christ’s imputed righteousness—to those who believe—is the act of God granting completely undeserved clemency to those He chose from before eternity.

If you really think that I’m saying God “makes” us believe (and I may not be denying that I am), then what do you do with someone like Saul of Tarsus? Knocking him down on the road, changing the heart of an anti-Christ?

Indeed, what a gross violation of human free-will that was.

So, yes, I suppose it does put the sacred cow of total free-will into question. What do the red letters say about the matter of free will?

It may be helpful for you to understand it in another way. If man is fallen by nature, inclined away from God, then there is certainly a free will in everyone’s ability to choose what they want (sin, godlessness) without external constraint. Do you believe that all, apart from Christ, are in bondage to sin? If regeneration indeed liberates a sinner from slavery, then it’s quite an odd thing to call liberation a “violation of freedom.”

“Most go to hell? And a small, select few get lucky?”

Some get “lucky”? Some get grace. And those who don’t? They get justice.

I’d love to wrap my head around the kind of fallen humanity that some people think is not willingly running as far away from God as possible. Yes, they want the benefits that God can give them, as Aquinas once intimated. But they don’t truly want Christ: Again, John: “And this is the verdict: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

So God did knowingly create a system in which he knew people would perish. It’s not a new idea. It’s even the same idea in the old riddle of Epicurus that theodicy can only attempt to address. I don’t know why God didn’t choose universal salvation. But He didn’t. Likewise, He could have chosen universal damnation. Or God could have done nothing at all. I don’t have an answer. But the gospel, for all intents and purposes, declares is that an unfathomable number (Rev 7:9) will nevertheless be spared from judgment because of God’s grace.

And yet, again, no one gets justice just for not being predetermined or chosen to get grace. They get justice because they’re corrupt, willful, evil violators of God’s eternal law, with absolutely no recourse for being justified outside of Christ’s atonement. They don’t even want Christ’s atonement! If they do, then why don’t they simply believe in Christ at some point?

What does any fallen, unjustified human possess that should warrant salvation? Good works? Pure intent?

God is unfair. Oh, okay. Of course, though, true “fairness” would be damnation in hell for me, for you, for everybody else… What is this so-called “equality” of mercy that God should have instituted? An obligated “grace”? What sort of grace is that?

I once had an acquaintance who wanted to have a conversation about the possibility of universal salvation. Love Wins, that hip little Itching Ear Bible, got right to what he’d wanted to hear.

But he and Rob Bell would continue to waffle on a crucial point. This is the question: What is “believing in Jesus” aside from a willful acceptance through cognizance? Did Christ’s sacrificial death mean anything for justification? Or was it just an example—an idea? If justification through the cross to those who believe doesn’t ultimately matter, then the cross was completely superfluous. It’s about as meaningful as a man running into a burning building to show his “love” for a child who’s safe at home in bed, 20 miles away. It would be an act of “self-sacrifice” for absolutely nothing.

Furthermore, if Christ is a (g)od who has never had a true covenant of faith by which someone must come to him and remain in him, then he is not the Old Testament God. What that implies, of course, is that there are either (1) multiple Gods or that (2) the entire Old Testament is untrustworthy and utterly false. In addition, the New Testament must also be untrue because of its implicit reliance on the former covenant for demonstrating its supposed prophetic significance.

Yes, Christ was sent to “proclaim liberty to the captives.” But captives of what? Captives of state prisons? No—captives of sin!

But is there no real need for justification? Is the problem of sin only illusory, then?

If the actions of Jesus are not rooted in actual history, which is a possibility under the universalist view, then how are they significant in any way—even if one “acts” as if the cross is true? For, “if Christ has not been raised [having literally died], your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinth. 15:17). If sin isn’t even the problem, then why can’t someone live apart from Christ? The Universalist is continually conflating a lot of things. While Christ does certainly sustain everything as creator, he doesn’t sustain everything as redeemer.

Those are two entirely different roles. No one can receive Christ as redeemer unless they receive him through concrete, cognizant faith. Read the red letters: “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son [apietheo—to disbelieve, disobey, willingly and perversely] shall not see life; but the wrath of God stays on him” (John 3:36).

No, His words aren’t welcoming for many. But they’re comforting because of their clarity in affirming what God demands if anyone is to have life. I know plenty of people who have no desire at all for God, who probably never will, and appear to be completely “fulfilled.” So what is it—does believing in Jesus just give me the ability to feel like the universe is on my side?

The goats who are ultimately sent to hell aren’t sent there because of, as Rob Bell so aptly describes, “their failure to see Jesus in the hungry and thirsty and naked.” They are sent to hell because there is a completely ruptured relationship between a holy God and sinful men. Because the Universalist differentiates between the God of Isaiah and the God of the New Testament, she empties the cross of all its power and significance. She just can’t bring herself to acknowledge that the freedom, liberty, and healing provided by the cross has anything whatsoever to do with sin.

Christ, as God, saved only eight individuals and destroyed tens-of-thousands of others in the flood. Or was that a different god, one who should in hindsight be called unjust for enacting judgment on sinners?

My argument isn’t that we’re so depraved that we can only truly understand God through the Bible. It’s that we’re depraved to the extent that, apart from God’s grace, we have no moral ability to freely choose between doing righteous deeds and unrighteous ones.

If sin is so significant and keeps us in such a damaged relationship with God, how is the gap bridged, outside of the justification that comes by faith? The only other options are (1) justification by works or (2) justification by passive existence. The first is patently false. The second, however, would be a matter of individuals being justified simply for being. Do most of us eventually adhere to God’s way of salvation because we decide to? If we do, then what incredible sort of corrupt moral ability enables us to do that?

This idea of atonement for all, just by virtue of having lived! If the atonement of the cross is not only sufficient for all, but also efficient for all, then salvation is de facto given to everyone because Christ atoned for everyone, even those without faith. “And will not God give justice to his elect [his chosen ones], who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:7).

Hey, Jesus—who cares? Quit talking about and crying over the elect. We’re all “chosen” because we’re all justified.

And everyone is continually crying out to God. Yes, even the Pharisees did this very thing; it just didn’t appear to be that way at the time!

All they ever needed to do was understand the “essence” of Jesus. They didn’t ever really need to “acknowledge” him as Lord.

And we can all do it, too. We really can.

If we could just have enough sincerity.

And why would anyone have a problem with that? This is just simply what it means for everyone to truly be reconciled to God.

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