A Pew Forum poll showed that 70% of Americans believed that many religions led to God. This factoid was brought along with the revelation that a large number of Americans still considered themselves nominally Christians. This means a large number of Americans (and likewise western Christians in general) follow a religion that claims to be an absolute truth and yet do not think it is so. They in essence follow a type of salvific theology known as universalism – in other words, all roads lead to heaven, and everyone can be saved so long as they’re “good enough.” This theology is, unfortunately, dead wrong.
How clear is scripture on this subject? I was accused recently of denying universalism only because of my Reform theology, and yet I have never done anything but quote scripture. Scripture, in this case, is very clear on our means of salvation:
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33]
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [John 1:12-13]
“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 3:18]
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…” [John 11:23-26]
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:11-12]
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:30-31]
Scripture continually beats the drum of, “Christ is our salvation! Christ is our salvation! Christ is our salvation!” There is absolutely no other way to conclude it. In fact, one would be be hard pressed to read through the entire Gospel of John alone and sincerely come to the conclusion that there was another way beside Christ. Just as the old covenant sacrifices were made to atone for the sins of God’s people (Israel) and not the pagan idolaters outside the nation, so too is the new covenant sacrifice of Christ made to atone for the sins of the children of God, and not those “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) who reject their God.
Universalists declare that the idea of a God who judges based on unbelief creates a cruel God. I would propose that universalism creates a God who is a sadist. Why do I say this? For the simple reason that Christ was, according to this theology, made to endure the most horrific torture of His time, followed by the most horrific and embarrassing crucifixion for a Jewish man of that time, as well as the jeers of all political and religious leaders and citizens of that time…and all in front of His family and closest friends…and He did not have to do it.
What purpose, then, did Christ’s sacrifice have? That is the biggest crime of universalism. Many have asked why I am so passionate about this, and I can give a simple answer: for the very fact that it is an offense to the teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord.
Christ says He is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him – yet the universalist would tell you that a person can be saved by other ways, other truths, other sources of life, and that they don’t need Christ to go to the Father. That is an insult to our Lord, His word and His divinity.
Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” He identified Himself as the very embodiment of the resurrection, in which believers will rise and enter into the presence of their Lord. Yet the universalist tells us that Christ isn’t the resurrection and the life, and in fact millions of people out there have never needed Him to have eternal life. That is an insult to our Lord.
The apostle Peter, speaking of Jesus, said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Yet according to the universalist, a person can be saved under Mohammad, Vishnu, Buddha, or any other number of false prophets and gods all because “they don’t know any better” or “that’s just how they perceive God.” That’s not only an insult to the sovereignty of our Lord, but the apostle Peter.
The apostle Paul, speaking of how men used to unknowingly follow false gods, said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed…” Yet the universalist tells us that, in actuality, God will keep overlooking that ignorance because it would simply be unfair to judge someone in that regard. That makes the apostle Paul a liar and a deceiver.
I have been told my theology is inconsistent, but there is nothing inconsistent in the theology, “God desires all men to be saved, and has brought about this salvation through His Son, Christ Jesus.” What’s inconsistent is teaching people, “There’s salvation in Jesus…um, unless you don’t know any better. I mean, He’s the only way to the Father, but you know, there are other ways if you just don’t read your Bible well enough.” There is nothing inconsistent with saying, “God desires to bring His sheep together, and has sent His apostles throughout the world so that all believing in Christ would be saved.” What’s inconsistent is teaching people, “Christ sent out his disciples to preach Jesus, but um…they didn’t have to, I mean, if someone doesn’t know Jesus they’ll still be saved…” That is all inconsistent. That is the kind of theology that is, quite simply put, heresy. It is a heresy that, if mixed with worship, is a stench in the nostrils of our Lord.
This is why even those who would propose “divine loopholes” to salvation – such as postmortem repentance and the like – are in just as much error as universalists, preaching what amounts to semi-universalism. Many of them still believe that they can uphold beliefs such as “salvation in Christ alone” or “the importance of evangelism,” yet to uphold these beliefs with semi-universalism is even more heretical and paradoxical than straight universalism itself. One ignores the word of God; the other mocks it.
Many many years ago, I myself was a universalist. Until maybe about two years ago, I transformed into a semi-universalist. I have since rejected the very notion altogether, because of the clarity of scripture through the words of our Lord and His apostles altogether on this. I recognize that this is hard for many to accept, but the reality of why we preach the message of God to others becomes clear when the need to do so does as well. Just as doctors and physicians rush to a scene of disease because they know their services will be needed, so too do Christians who understand the terrible consequences of sin rush to those who are lost. Many might say, “I have friends who aren’t Christian – they’re atheists/Jews/Muslims/Hindu/simple unbelievers.” Then give them the gospel, not out of force but out of love. Just as God had mercy upon you, become His tool of mercy to those around you. It will not be you who causes the growth, but God, for He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. If they do not believe, then you will have done your role as an ambassador for Christ, and they will be judged accordingly. If they come to believe, it is to the glory of God, and you will not be judged for not having done your duty.
This will still make many more uneasy, especially in this post-modern world where “live and let live” has gone beyond its original context. To those still nervous and would rather forget the words of scripture which clearly condemn the idea of universalism, I simply end with the words of our Lord:
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. [Luke 9:26]