Is universalism, the concept of universal salvation, biblical?
Universalism, or universal salvation, is the belief that each person will go to heaven when he or she dies. Another way people often put it is "all roads lead to heaven." This belief rests on the principle that God is all loving, and therefore He would not cause anyone to go to hell. Universalism seems nice because it takes all responsibility for sin off an individual, and it even goes so far as to say that hell does not exist. The problem with this belief system, however, is that it goes against what Scripture teaches. Universalists support their beliefs with Bible verses that describe Christ's death as atonement for all people: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). These verses are true, but taken in isolation or out of context, they do not give an accurate depiction of the entirety of the gospel message. Universalism picks and chooses verses on which to form its doctrine and leaves out another essential part of the gospel that is clear in the Bible and taught by Jesus Himself.
It is true that Scripture teaches that Jesus died for all and salvation is offered to everyone (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 11:32). However, the Bible also teaches that each person has to receive this gift for himself: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. . . . Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:16, 18). Salvation is a free gift from God, but it requires faith to be received (Ephesians 2:8–9). In Romans, Paul writes how this saving faith is demonstrated through confession that Jesus is Lord and belief in His resurrection (Romans 10:9–10). The Bible also teaches that salvation is reached through faith in Jesus only; no other god or religion will lead a person to heaven (Acts 4:12; 2 Corinthians 11:12–15). Jesus Himself says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Universalism leaves out the parts of Scripture that teach that those who reject Christ will face eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41–46; Mark 9:47–48; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus describes a day in which all people will be judged. Those who received salvation by grace through faith enter into heaven, while those who do not have a relationship with Jesus are sent "into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41, emphasis added). Revelation also describes a judgment day: "And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:13-15). Hell is a reality according to the Bible, and to believe and teach otherwise will do great harm to many people.
God's desire is for every person to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). But whereas universalism teaches that all roads lead to heaven, the Bible is clear that the only way of salvation is through Jesus Christ. To say otherwise is to belittle God's holiness and justice, and Jesus' work on the cross. Teaching universalism may seem nice and even loving, but it is ultimately bereft of the gospel and thus leaves people without an understanding of the only means of salvation. Failing to teach the whole counsel of God, including the reality of eternal hell, is the furthest thing from demonstrating true love. Instead, we teach what the Bible proclaims. God is love (1 John 4:8–10). He created mankind in His image (Genesis 1:27), but humans opted to go against God (sin) (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23). That sin leaves us separated from God (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1–3). Sin leads only to death and condemnation. But in His love, God provided a way for us to be forgiven and brought into relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:4–10). He gives the gift of eternal life to all who will receive it (John 3:16–18). Sadly, not everyone will come to faith in Christ, but the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection is open to all.
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