When We All Get to Heaven

Blog note: Occasionally, I include a letter or article that another Christian has written. Mr. Greg Lauer at alittlestrength.com has done a profound job of debunking or proving the falsehood or false doctrine of universalism. Thank you Mr. Lauer. End of note.

… “ For the time will come whent they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

… “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall evil be spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgement now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” (Peter 2:1-3).

When We All Get to Heaven

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have much use for a lot of the songs they sing in many churches these days. No offense, but you can keep all the repetitive, soft-and-sweet, plain vanilla lyrics—gimme a shot of the hard stuff. The old-time gospel songs we used to sing in the small-town church I grew up in still do it for me in ways that nothing they sing in churches today can touch: good old-fashioned gospel songs that punch you in the gut with the gospel message of salvation through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the certainty of His soon return. Songs like “Power in the Blood”; “At Calvary”; Standing on the Promises”; “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”; “The Old Rugged Cross”; “Victory in Jesus”; “Are You Washed in the Blood?” and many others.

Oh, and one other song that became a most welcome earworm recently while reading up on one of the latest waves of false doctrine that is breaking over the levees of the Church today is “When We All Get to Heaven.” What brought it to mind was an aberrant doctrine that is gaining a lot of traction in today’s uber-tolerant, uber-inclusive society (and Church), where political correctness and the opinions of men increasingly trump the Word of God and a biblically sound presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The false doctrine I’m referring to goes by several aliases, but it is most commonly referred to as Universalism. It also goes by such names as Universal Salvation, Universal Reconciliation, and a few others, and although a few diehards may split hairs over minor perceived differences, I’m going to stick with the term “Universalism” for simplicity.

This snake has been lying in the grass since the early third century thanks largely to the work of prolific Alexandrian theologian Origen, and it was denounced as heresy by the Council of Constantinople in AD 543. It saw a resurgence in the nineteenth century, however, and over the last few years it seems to have blossomed into a big-top movement, nourished in the soil of today’s atmosphere of tolerance and inclusiveness and spearheaded by celebrity ministers like Rob Bell, founder of the Mars Hill megachurch in Grandville, Michigan and author of the de facto Universalist manifesto Love Wins(HarperCollins, 2011).

What I want to do in this article is briefly go over the doctrine of Universalism and discuss a few reasons why I believe it’s utterly contrary to what the Bible clearly teaches. Beyond that, I would also like to touch on four specific go-to tactics that are heavily used by proponents of this doctrine in order to sell it, because they seem to be doing a bang-up job of getting buy-in from sizable swaths of the Church these days.

Too good to be true

First, let’s take a quick look at what Universalism teaches, and then consider some ways in which it simply doesn’t stand up to scriptural scrutiny.

There are several variant strains of Universalism that go by different names, but I don’t see much point in wasting your time delving into all the nuances because they’re all false and contrary to Scripture for pretty much the same fundamental reasons. Anyway, here’s the basic idea:

Universalism teaches that in the end, everyone will be reconciled to God and end up in heaven. That’s right—everyone, whether they ever deign to repent and believe the gospel in faith during their earthly lives or not. Why? Because God is just so darn loving and merciful. We can’t even grasp how loving and merciful He is…and over the last two thousand years, nefarious elements within the Church have defamed God’s character and warped His Word by concocting this twisted, nightmarish vision of hell that most people will spend eternity in, being subjected to the most hideous torture imaginable by a “loving” God. What an incredibly vile insult that is to a God who is the very essence of love!

Of course, people who do believe the gospel during their lives will be part of the Church, but all who don’t will have another opportunity to do so after death, and in this way God will ultimately save and reconcile to Himself each and every last human being who ever lived. God’s will is for everyone to be saved, so if they’re not His will is thwarted. Similarly, Christ came to seek and save the lost, and so if even one person were to remain lost, Christ’s work of atonement would remain unfinished. Their unfailing love would fail!

You see, versions of the Bible have been mistranslated for centuries. Hell, if you want to call it that, is not “eternal” in the “never ending” sense. No no no, it is just an age that ends, like any other age. It is merely a holding tank designed to punish people temporarily so God can soften them up and ultimately save them. It should be obvious that to do anything less would be inconsistent with His supremely loving, merciful nature. Oh, did I mention how loving and merciful God is?

Any way you slice it, the overriding point that invariably shines through can be summed up thusly:

A loving, merciful God would never consign
anyone to eternal punishment. Period.

Perish the thought. Here’s a quote from Tentmaker.org, a website maintained by Gary Amirault that is one of the leading Universalism sites on the Internet. I want you to see this just because I don’t want anyone to think I am subverting what Universalists believe or that I’m grossly misrepresenting it in some way:

The Bible, correctly translated teaches Jesus Christ, the Chosen One of our heavenly Father will save the whole world. Hell will be empty when Jesus and His believers (His called out ones) are finished. That is the growing view of Bible scholars, translators, Bible publishers and ministers of grace. Hell is leaving the pages of many Bible translations. Jesus Christ is becoming “Lord of all.”

Experience your heavenly Father’s and Son’s unfailing love for you. Be set free from the fear that you or a loved one may be eternally damned to Hell. Beloved, because you ARE loved, now you can BE LOVE.

— from Tentmaker.org

See what I mean?

The Bible has been mistranslated all this time, didn’t ya know. Hell is falling out of fashion, and everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. Experience the Father’s and the Son’s “unfailing” love (since if even one person were not ultimately saved, their love would somehow “fail”).

So as you can see, with all due respect to Mr. Amirault, I’m not making this stuff up.

Now, if all I wanted to do was simply refute this doctrine from the plain text of Scripture, I could wrap this article up before lunch and go fishing (except for the fact that I’m much too long-winded and my interest in fish begins and ends on a dinner plate—but I think you catch my drift).

What I’m saying is that, with all due respect to good people who have devoted themselves to promoting this doctrine, refuting Universalism from Scripture is veritable child’s play. In fact, since I’m starting to feel like that kid in the proverbial candy store, I’m going to approach this a little differently than many people do. Let’s start off with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and see where it takes us.

Universalists claim:

Everybody’s going to heaven!

Oh really?

19Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. 20A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. 23In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom.

(Luke 16:19–23 / emphasis added)

Tell that to the rich man in Hades.

That’s not what we mean. Oh, you might go there, but hell isn’t eternal—you’re going to be able to go to heaven eventually!

Oh really?

24He cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.” 25But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. 26Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”

(Luke 16:24–26 / emphasis added)

Tell that to Abraham, who is apparently confused about the physical configuration of Hades (“…there is a great gulf fixed…that none may cross over from there to us”).

Now, some believe (and personally I am inclined to agree) that Hades (or Sheol) is the abode of the dead, and has two compartments separated by a gulf that cannot be traversed: one called Paradise or Abraham’s bosom for the righteous dead before Calvary (that was emptied after the Crucifixion), and one for the unrighteous dead, which will continue to fill until it is emptied at the Great White Throne Judgment. Righteous Jews waited in this “holding tank” of peace and comfort until Christ carried out His work of atonement to finally remove their sin that God graciously allowed to remain “covered” by the blood of bulls and goats temporarily, thus making it possible for them to finally enter heaven. On the other hand, the compartment for the unrighteous dead is a holding tank for the unrighteous of all time who will be cast into the lake of fire following the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).

This holding tank for the righteous would have still been in use at the time Jesus told the parable, and so it is possible that Jesus is speaking of the rich man not being allowed to cross over from the holding tank for the unrighteous to that of the righteous, rather than being allowed to cross over into heaven proper.

Let me be quick to point out, however, that Scripture is not 100 percent clear on these details, and competent biblical scholars I respect have varying opinions—so I certainly won’t be dogmatic about it.

But even if Jesus is only talking about the rich man not being able to cross over to Abraham’s bosom rather than heaven itself, consider the operative principle here:

Q. If it was impossible for the unrighteous dead to so much as cross over to the holding tank for people bound for heaven, what are the chances it’s possible for them to cross over from their place of torment directly into heaven itself?
A. Good luck with that.

Relax! Everyone will have another chance to repent after they die!

Oh really?

27He said, “I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; 28for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.” 29But Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.”

(Luke 16:27–31 / emphasis added)

Then why is the rich man so desperate and distraught over the fate of his five unbelieving brothers?

If you believe people will have another chance to repent, have faith in God, and be saved after they die, then I have several questions about this parable for you to ponder:

• Why does the rich man beg Abraham to send Lazarus to testify to his five brothers so they will never have to come to such a place of torment? If they’re all going to get a “Get Out of Hell Free” card at some point after they die, why the palpable sense of life-and-death desperation on the part of the rich man?

• Why doesn’t the rich man tell Abraham, “OK, I believe, I believe!! Moses and the prophets were right! How could I have been so blind?! I’m sorry!! I repent!!” Why does he merely ask for his tongue to be cooled? And why doesn’t he ask Abraham to let him go visit his brothers? Wouldn’t that be more effective than sending Lazarus? Or…uhm, is it possible that he not only knew exactly where he was, but also exactly why he was there and that he would never be allowed to leave?

• Why does Abraham state that the rich man’s brothers have Moses and the prophets with such a sense of finality, like that’s all they’re gonna get because that’s all they need? Why doesn’t Abraham go on to reassure the distraught rich man that even if his brothers don’t believe Moses and the prophets during their earthly lives, it’s OK because they’ll have another chance to repent and believe after they die? If that were in fact the case, then Abraham is being at best disingenuous, and at worst sadistic…and disingenuous.

• Similarly, why does Abraham emphasize that if his brothers won’t believe Moses and the prophets, they won’t believe someone who rises from the dead? What does it matter? If they’re all going to get a chance to repent and believe after they die, why all the drama?

• Finally, why would Jesus Himself teach this parable in a way that slyly conceals the fact that in reality He would never allow either the rich man or his five brothers to remain in that place of torment for eternity? Why doesn’t Jesus use this golden opportunity to highlight His great love and mercy, and emphasize how He loves them so much and has such boundless mercy for them that even if they all foolishly spurn the message of Moses and the prophets throughout their entire earthly lives and callously blow off the God who miraculously delivered their ancestors from bondage in Egypt, He will lovingly and mercifully give them all another chance to repent and believe after they die so they can ultimately be freed from such hellish torment and be allowed to enter heaven?

That seems like a pretty important detail to leave out, wouldn’t you agree? And it seems to me like this would have been the perfect parable to highlight this idea. Just saying.

So, in my scriptural opinion, a brief look at this one single parable goes a long way toward dismantling some of the fundamental errors of Universalism, although there are an ample number of other angles from which to expose this doctrine as being contrary to God’s Word. Here are a couple of other nuggets to gnaw on:

For example, what are we supposed to do with verses like this:

27And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment.

(Hebrews 9:27 AKJV)

(1) Men die. (2) Men are judged. That’s the routine. And there are only two possible outcomes: We are either (a) judged to be righteous because we have Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us by faith, or we are (b) judged to be unrighteous based on our unforgiven sin and our own works. And the choice is all ours—and if judgment follows our death, then obviously it’s a decision we must make during our earthly lives. That seems clear enough.

Notice, however, what this verse doesn’t say. It doesn’t say:

“And it is appointed to men once to die, but after this comes another chance to repent and believe in order to avoid being judged unrighteous.”

It seems the writer of Hebrews left that part out for some odd reason.

Not only that, but if everybody who rejects God and the message of salvation through faith in Christ and dies in their sin gets another chance to repent and believe after they die, it’s kinda hard to call whatever it is they face after death a “judgment,” you know? It’s a bit like a teacher who gives out the answers to the final exam the day before the test. Not much of an “exam,” although none of the students would complain.

Along the same line, consider this: During their earthly lives, legions of people pooh-pooh the existence of a holy, just, loving God as a fairy tale concocted by superstitious simpletons who are afraid of the dark. They dismiss the Bible as a ragtag collection of deeply flawed Bronze Age myths, and blow off the gospel message of salvation by faith in Christ as so much nonsense promulgated by a gaggle of brainwashed bozos.

Now, think for a second. After such people die and enter the spiritual realm, do you think their attitudes about all this spiritual stuff just might change a wee bit? Do you think they will maintain these same opinions after they suddenly find themselves in the spiritual dimension they either (a) blew off as air-brushed make believe, or that (b) doesn’t turn out to be whatever rosy, man-made poppycock they bought into during their lives?

Let’s think this through. I am convinced that within a relatively short period of time after they die, such people will know at least five things for absolute certain:

1. God is real (and so is Satan).

2. Heaven is real (and so is hell).

3. Whatever they chose to believe about the afterlife (if they believed anything at all) was a lie straight from the pit of Hollywood.

4. Their faith in themselves or in whatever quasi-religious lies they bought into was badly misplaced.

5. They blew it big time.

Hey, I’m not going for thrills and chills here—I’m not trying to send shivers down anyone’s spine or anything. I honestly believe this to be the case based on my understanding of God’s Word.

No? Think about it: The rich man in the above parable apparently blew off God and His Word and lived a life of comfort and pleasure—his god was his belly, just like many people today. But after he died, what was clearly true?

1. He sure knew God was real because he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to witness to his brothers so they would believe and have faith in Him. And it’s safe to assume he knew Satan was real because he was in Hades. Duh…

2. He certainly knew the place of torment he was in was real, and he knew Paradise was real because he could actually see Lazarus and Abraham in it.

3. We know from 1. that the rich man now realized how wrong and misguided his beliefs had been, and that he now understood the importance of believing Moses and the prophets (i.e. God’s Word).

4. He clearly understood his faith in himself and his material possessions was badly misplaced.

5. His desperate desire to save his brothers from sharing his fate clearly reveals that he knew he blew it big time.

Now, after such people die and enter the spiritual realm and are confronted with these truths, do you think they might be willing to “believe” and have “faith”? If Christ were to appear to them at some point after they die and ask them if they would believe in Him and what He did for them and accept His free gift of salvation, do you think they might accept? Yes, perhaps?

Are you kidding me?! Of course they would! After coming face to face with the spiritual reality of the situation, with every lingering doubt about God, Satan, heaven, hell, and the gospel they ever had during their earthly lives now swept away like so many cookie crumbs, anyone in their right mind would leap at the chance to beg God for forgiveness and implore Christ to save them from the torment they are currently experiencing and the eternity in hell they are facing.

And why is that?

Because of what they have seen and now know to be true!

And there lies the fly in the ointment. OK, bear with me here:

Q. How do we please God, or have any kind of relationship with Him?

6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

(Hebrews 11:6 AKJV / emphasis added)

A. Simple—we please God through faith.

There’s no other way. This is the one thing God absolutely requires of us: We must have faith in Him. Our relationship with God begins and ends with faith. It’s like I keep saying:

God just has a thing for faith.

OK, and what is faith?

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

(Hebrews 11:1 AKJV / emphasis added)

Things hoped for…things not seen. And suddenly the fundamental problem with the idea of getting another chance to have faith in God after you die comes into focus:

Someone dies in their sin and in unbelief, and enters the spiritual dimension where they soon realize that they were dead wrong about God and spiritual things. They soon realize God is real and that they will never see heaven (which they now know is real) and will instead be consigned to hell (which they also now know is real), separated from a loving God who sacrificed the life of His Son that they might be saved—but they would have none of it. And they see that these things are true—they know they’re true beyond a shadow of a doubt. They’ve passed through the veil, so to speak. There’s no more need for them to speculate or dream up unbiblical nonsense or create a god more to their liking as they did during their earthly life because they are now confronted with the reality of these spiritual truths. They no longer have to believe (or disbelieve) in the unseen anymore. They now exist in the spiritual dimension—these things are all out in the open now, and are as real as real can be to them, just as they were to the rich man in the parable.

Oh, but look! Jesus is coming to them to ask if they would be interested in repenting and having faith in God, now that they’ve had a few years (decades, centuries, whatever) to burn in Hades to think it over.

The $64,000 question is staring us in the face:

Q. On what basis can they have genuine faith, the one thing God requires of man?
A. (Sound of crickets chirping…)

They are now part of the spiritual world, where the truth of God’s existence and the reality of Christ’s fait accompli at Calvary will be made manifest. The truth of spiritual things will no longer be unseen. So what exactly is the basis for faith at this point? Hmmm…

Incidentally, recall that Abraham told the rich man in the parable that if his brothers wouldn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t believe someone who rose from the dead—and we see the exact same principle at work when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who demanded to see a sign from Him to prove His authority (Luke 11:29–32):

Faith is the evidence of things not seen,
which is why miracles do not produce faith.
They only whet people’s appetite for more miracles.

And just as Abraham stated: The Pharisees did see a man rise from the dead—and they still didn’t believe.

The bottom line is that I’ve got bad news for those who blow off the gospel during their earthly lives:

After those who reject God and spurn the gospel die and enter the spiritual realm, they will no longer have any basis for saving faith.

That’s why rejecting during one’s earthly life the truth of God’s existence and the offer of grace and mercy He has expressed to us through Christ is a case of “game over—you lose,” and not “wrong answer—guess again.”

Neither admitting what is painfully obvious
nor conceding the reality of things that have
been made manifestly clear constitute “faith.”

And without faith you get nowhere with God. And Universalism starts to come tumbling down like the house of cards that it is. Although the idea that everyone will go to heaven sounds great, it’s like they always say:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

A little closer to the vest

Now, if you want to refute the notion that everyone will go to heaven in a somewhat more traditional way, never fear. There is no shortage of crystal clear passages of Scripture that pop it like a balloon at a birthday party. For example:

28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 10:28 AKJV / emphasis added)

It seems Universalists believe He is able, but not willing—so don’t sweat it. And by the way, if Universalism were true, there would certainly be no need to fear this great, loving, merciful God. So why would the Bible explicitly tell us to do so?

33You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?

(Matthew 23:33 AKJV / emphasis added)

How? Easy! According to Universalists, those serpents will get another chance to repent after they die. Perhaps that slipped Jesus’ mind in the heat of the moment.

36He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God stays on him.

(John 3:36 AKJV / emphasis added)

He that believes not. Period. Apparently Jesus neglected to mention the fine print about believing after you die. Oopsy.

Space doesn’t permit me to chase down the sheer volume of slippery, misleading arguments used by Universalists, such as when they make much of the Parable of the Lost Sheep (uh, Jesus is talking about His sheep, not the goats…OK?).

I would be grossly remiss, however, if I didn’t at least mention a couple of Universalists’ favorite verses, the smoking guns that they believe put a lock on their doctrine:

3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

(1 Timothy 2:3–4 AKJV / emphasis added)

9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

(2 Peter 3:9 AKJV / emphasis added)

There you go…God’s will is that all men be saved, and that none should perish! So I suppose you “eternal damnation” folks think you can thwart God’s will, right? God is sovereign, and His will is alwaysaccomplished, no exceptions. That means all will be saved and nonewill perish. Period. Or don’t you “eternal damnation” types believe God is sovereign?

Yes, we certainly do believe God is sovereign, so can we please put that straw man back in the closet? Thank you. Besides, God’s sovereignty isn’t the issue and Universalists know it.

Twisting the words of Scripture to prop up a false doctrine—that’s the issue.

Just because God desires all
men to be saved, however,
doesn’t mean they are, since
Scripture makes it clear
that many are not saved.

The Greek word used in the phrase “will have all men to be saved” in 1 Timothy 2:4 is a form of thelo, which can mean and is frequently translated “wish,” “want,” or “desire.” In fact, many translations render this verse in precisely that manner. Similarly, the Greek word used in the phrase “not willing that any should perish” in 2 Peter 3:9 is a form of boulomai, which can take on essentially the same meaning as thelo, except for the fact that it can convey a stronger sense of intensity.

In other words, without getting into a big linguistic brouhaha, the key phrases in these two verses could be (and routinely are in many translations) properly rendered as “God desires all men to be saved” and “God doesn’t desire that any should perish.”

Just because God desires all men to be saved, however, doesn’t mean they are, since Scripture makes it clear that many are not saved. They never come to a place of repentance and faith in God and His provision for their salvation. And just because God doesn’t desire that any should perish doesn’t mean that none do, because Scripture makes it equally clear that many do perish, or incur the loss of eternal life in heaven:

45Then he will answer them, saying, “Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.” 46These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

(Matthew 25:45–46 / emphasis added)

13Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it14How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it.

(Matthew 7:13–14 / emphasis added)

8Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the manifestation of his coming; 9even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10and with all deception of wickedness for those who are being lost, because they didn’t receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved11Because of this, God sends them a working of error, that they should believe a lie; 12that they all might be judged who didn’t believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

(2 Thessalonians 2:8–12 / emphasis added)

And there are literally scores more where these came from.

In spite of the rivers of ink that have been spilled by theologians a hundred times more erudite than I ever hope to be, hammering out deep theological opinions on these questions over the centuries, the issue of unbelievers being eternally separated from God seems fairly straightforward to me:

Of course God wants all men to be saved, and none to lose out on eternal life. But Scripture makes it as plain as day that not all are saved and many do lose out on eternal life, and the reason is simple:

Not all will respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Not all will humble their hearts and acknowledge their sin that has separated them from a God who loves them enough to sacrifice the life of His Son to provide the necessary means for their salvation. Not all will avail themselves of the offer of grace and mercy He has expressed to us through Christ.

The simple truth is that even though God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and spoke the universe into existence by the Word of His mouth, there is one thing He can not and will not do, and He arranged it that way for a reason.

His desire is for us to turn our hearts to Him and respond to and avail ourselves of His grace and mercy; but even though God does the heavy lifting, it still must by its very definition include and/or involve compliance by the free will He gave us in some manner. If God overpowers our free will and essentially forces the most obstinate, self-willed among us to “respond” to Him, it all unravels. God becomes the Almighty Narcissist, surrounding Himself with adoring sentient beings of His own creation like so many sock puppets—sock puppets that are apparently not made in His image. (One reason He gave us free will is because He has free will.)

• Can He make us fear Him? Sure.
• Can He make us dread Him? Piece of cake.
• Can He make us grudgingly respect Him? You bet.

But He can’t make us love Him. Our heart-felt response to our Heavenly Father cannot be forcefully willed into existence by the greatest power ever known.

Not even His…and that’s exactly how He designed it to be.

If you ask me, I’d say it’s about time to go fishing. But before you break out your tackle box, let’s take a quick look at four of the go-to tactics heavily employed by Universalists:

1. Place a gushing overemphasis on God’s love and mercy, and ignore or gloss over His holiness and His justice.

2. Force a woodenly literal interpretation on the word “all” in every verse dealing with salvation, regardless of the context or other clear teaching.

3. Argue that the Greek words or phrases that are translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” etc. don’t literally mean “lasting forever” when applied to hell.

4. Encourage people to allow their personal opinions and feelings to trump what God’s Word clearly teaches.

“All you need is love…”

1. Place a gushing overemphasis on God’s love and mercy, and ignore or gloss over His holiness and His justice.

First and foremost, Universalists spare no effort in lavishing great overemphasis on God’s love and mercy. Love love love…mercy mercy mercy. God just love love love love loves us, and His mercy is so great and overwhelming…I mean, gosh, how in the world could such a loving, merciful God ever possibly send a person to a horrifying place like hell to literally burn forever? It’s all about God’s love and mercy, from start to finish, and that “eternal damnation” business just isn’t consistent with that…so it’s just gotta be wrong.

Scant attention (if any) is paid to God’s holiness, justice, or His righteous indignation that is provoked when sinful men arrogantly trample these traits underfoot and scornfully repudiate the grace and mercy that He expressed to man through His Son’s work of atonement. God gave us His very best—He sacrificed the life of His only Son to provide for our salvation, and don’t think for one microsecond that God takes the rejection or diminishing of that sacrifice lightly. He does not.

Along with love, God’s holiness and His justice are equally important aspects of His divine character as revealed in His Word—and none of His attributes somehow trumps all the others. All three of these characteristics operate together in mutual support and harmony and define His essential nature—and if any one of them is omitted, obscured, or given short shrift, they all crumble into a smoldering pile of contradictions. And the God of the Bible is no longer the God of the Bible.

Speaking of mercy and justice, here’s a tidbit to consider:

Christianity treats the ideas of God’s justice and mercy differently than any other religion.

In any other religion you can name, the resident deity invariably expresses mercy at the expense of its justice. In other words, yeah, their god may show mercy, but when it does so it has no choice but to compromise any real sense of justice. There’s no way around it.

In Islam, for example, Allah may (or may not, depending on his mood) deign to grant forgiveness to a penitent Muslim; but since that Muslim individual has in fact sinned and committed a legitimate offense against Allah, poor old Allah has no choice but to look the other way and sweep the due penalty for that person’s offense under the proverbial carpet in order to grant that forgiveness. And is that offense ever punished? Nope, and that’s not justice. So, Allah must ignore his own justice in order to show mercy.

When the legitimate penalty for a legitimate offense must be ignored and left unimposed, that’s not justice. Justice has not been satisfied. It may be one sweetheart of a deal for the offending individual, but it’s not justice.

To get a sense of this, consider:

Am I merciful or what? Imagine that someone has murdered a member of your family in a senseless act of violence. The murderer is apprehended by the police and tried for first-degree murder. The evidence is all in, and the verdict is unanimous: guilty as charged. The penalty? Death.

At the sentencing, your entire extended family is anxiously waiting to hear the judge announce the penalty, which you all anticipate will be the death penalty for this loathsome animal that viciously robbed you of your beloved family member. But suddenly the judge quiets the courtroom and says, “I have no desire to destroy the life of this poor man, who has expressed remorse for what he did. I am going to show my great mercy, and forgive him and let him go free. Let it be known that I am indeed a merciful judge.”

OK? I don’t even need to finish the story—you know exactly how you would feel and react. You’d have to be removed from the courtroom.

It may be mercy, but it sure ain’t justice.

Christianity is the only religion on earth that doesn’t work that way. Rather than ignore His justice in order to show mercy, the God of the Bible had to satisfy His own perfect justice at Calvary through the substitutionary atonement of His only Son so that He could show mercy.

Christ’s death satisfied His Father’s perfect justice on our behalf, and as a result made it possible for Him to show mercy to undeserving sinners, because the legitimate penalty for the legitimate offenses of those undeserving sinners had already been meted out on His own perfectly righteous Son. His justice had to be satisfied first before He could show mercy and offer forgiveness to those undeserving sinners, if they would but repent and believe in faith in His Son’s finished work of atonement for their legitimate offenses against Him.

How can God’s mercy override His justice?
God’s justice is what makes His mercy possible.

In other words, God exercises His mercy through His justice. Without His perfect justice being satisfied, He couldn’t show mercy. And why must His perfect justice be satisfied? Because sin is an offense against His infinitely holy character, and so anything less than perfect justice being carried and all sin being justly punished would violate His holiness.

It’s rather ironic, but when Universalists ignore God’s infinite holiness and His perfect justice, they are inadvertently undermining His capacity to express His great love and mercy—the very foundation of their doctrine.

It is also rather ironic to realize that the first of God’s character traits to be denied in Scripture is His justice:

4And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die.

(Genesis 3:4 AKJV / emphasis added)

God had told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed His one command, they would die as a judgment. That was the just penalty for sin against a just, holy God, and the very first words out Satan’s mouth in Scripture seek to call into question and undermine that justice.

Which is exactly what Universalists do.

Of course, Universalists would counter with the idea that indeed, Christ didsatisfy the Father’s justice by paying the penalty for all men’s sins, and will draw all men to Him and save all of mankind. As a result, when people accuse them of glossing over God’s justice and holiness, they are inclined to reach for a snarky retort like “What part of ‘all’ don’t you understand?!”

What part of “all” don’t you understand?!

2. Force a woodenly literal interpretation on the word “all” in every verse dealing with salvation, regardless of the context or other clear teaching.

Universalists deliberately apply a rigid, woodenly literal meaning to the word “all” and force it to mean every single last one every time it has anything to do with salvation or God’s plan of redemption, in spite of the fact that the context gleaned from other clear passages of Scripture invariably preclude such an interpretation. This same tactic is also used with the words “every” and “whole” as a means to the same end.

First, a general usage note. Of course, the word “all” often does mean “each and every single one.” For example, if someone says, “I ate all the donuts,” I expect to walk into the kitchen and see an empty donut box on the table. If there are still one or two donuts left, I’m going to assume either that person didn’t mean what he said or that he was joking, because he obviously didn’t eat all the donuts. And then I’m liable to help myself to one.

But it is just as common for the word “all” to be used in a manner that does notcall for such an interpretation. Even in the Bible:

1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

(1 Timothy 2:1–2 AKJV / emphasis added)

Now, is Paul exhorting us to pray for each and every single person on the face of the planet? No! Obviously not, and it’s completely clear to every native speaker of English that that’s not what Paul means. The English word “all” conveys a different meaning here. He simply means to pray for many various people, especially those in positions of leadership so people can lead relatively peaceful, stable lives. For anyone who possesses a reasonable command of the English language, this isn’t too hard to sort out.

But along come the Universalists, waving verses like the following (which uses the same Greek word for “all”) in people’s faces :

32And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me.

(John 12:32 AKJV / emphasis added)

They are convinced that Jesus means He will ultimately save each and every single person who ever lived.

All means all! Unless, of course, you “eternal damnation” people want to twist it to mean something different.

Twist it to mean something different?! Who, me? Hey, I don’t have to.

I’m gonna let Jesus do that.

Yes, Jesus said He would draw all men to Him—but does the word “all” in this verse actually mean every single last person who ever lived?

Note that the same Jesus who said the above also said the below:

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [Included in “all”?Yes!] 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believes on him is not condemned: [Included in “all”? Yes!] but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [Included in “all”? No!] 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. [Included in “all”? No!] 21 But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God. [Included in “all”? Yes!]

(John 3:16–21 AKJV / emphasis & [comments] added)

I could chase down a couple dozen other verses scattered throughout the New Testament that make it thunderingly obvious in the clearest, most straightforward manner possible that not all men will respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit; not all will acknowledge their sin that has separated them from a holy, just, loving God; not all will admit they are helpless to save themselves; not all will believe in faith in the atonement for their sin Christ made at Calvary, and as a tragic result not all will be saved. The bottom line is crystal clear:

Sadly, according to the words of Christ Himself, the word “all” here only includes those who will—it clearly excludes those who won’t.

Not very inclusive, is it?

Sorry, snowflakes: The gospel of Jesus Christ is neither tolerant nor inclusive. Dry your eyes and deal with it. It is absolutely intolerant and exclusive of those who reject God and spurn His offer of grace and mercy. It has nothing to offer those who refuse to repent of sin and accept God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation except an eternity in hell, separated from a holy, just, loving God who wants nothing more than for them to humble their hearts before Him and accept His offer.

And while we’re on the subject, consider: Why do you think Satan would try so hard to promote the concepts of political correctness, tolerance, and inclusiveness in today’s society, which in many cases translate to “You must celebrate and embrace error that will steer me and many others away from the cross of Christ or suffer the social consequences”? Pretty slick, huh?

So, to all you Universalists out there, right back at ya:

What part of “all” don’t you understand?!

“Forever and ever, amen”

3. Argue that the Greek words or phrases that are translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” etc. don’t literally mean “lasting forever” when applied to hell.

Universalists insist that the Greek words or phrases translated “eternal” or “everlasting” or “forever and ever” in the New Testament don’t reallymean “eternal” in the…uhm, eternalsense…at least not when applied to hell or punishment inflicted by God. In that case, they merely refer an age, and so there is a clearly implied limit to their duration, just as with the Church Age or the Age of Law, or any other age. As a result, things like “eternal damnation” aren’t quite as “eternal” as we have been led to believe. “Eternal damnation” comes to an end.

In spite of the clouds of linguistic dust kicked up by Universalists, there is one drop-dead obvious problem with their arguments that leaves them fumbling for answers (and coming up with nothing but more dust):

Throughout the New Testament, the exact same Greek words and phrases used to describe the duration of hell (that Universalists try to argue is limited in duration) are routinely used to describe the duration of a number of other things that obviously do last forever.

There are tons of examples of this, but one will suffice to make the point.

In Revelation 20, we see Satan joining the Antichrist and the False Prophet in the lake of fire after his final failed rebellion against God at the end of the Millennial Kingdom:

10And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever[Greek: eis tous aionas ton aionon]

(Revelation 20:10 AKJV / emphasis & [comments] added)

OK, now, flip over to chapter 22 and read about the reign of the redeemed in the new heaven and new earth after the Millennial Kingdom:

5And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever[Greek: eis tous aionas ton aionon]

(Revelation 22:5 AKJV / emphasis & [comments] added)

Exact same phrase: eis tous aionas ton aionon. So, sit there and look me in the eyes and tell me the identical phrase used in these two verses conveys two completely different meanings.

Sorry hoss, I ain’t buyin’ it.

The original language of the New Testament is completely clear: Since the exact same Greek words and phrases are routinely used to describe both, if hell is limited in duration in any way as believed by Universalists, then we have no choice but to assume the following must also be limited in duration:

• God’s existence (1 Peter 1:23)
• God’s glory (Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17)
• God’s throne (Heb. 1:8)
• The existence of the redeemed (1 John 2:17)
• Life in heaven (Matt. 25:46)
• The Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14)
• Redemption (Heb. 9:12)
• Salvation (Heb. 5:9)
• Christ’s kingdom (2 Peter 1:11)

If you think any of the above are in some way limited in duration or come to an end at some point in the future, then put on your scriptural dunce cap and sign up for Bible Basics 101, because that’s where you belong.

These all last for eternity—and that means hell lasts for eternity.

Universalists are so distraught over the fact that nearly all Bible translators over the centuries have somehow managed to mistranslate the Greek words or phrases meaning “eternal,” “everlasting,” “for ever and ever,” etc. when specifically used to describe hell (with virtually all of them mistranslating them the exact same way, strangely enough) that they are planning to put out a new translation of the Bible to accommodate their doctrinal beliefs. I don’t know what they’ll call it, but how about the LW Bible (Love Wins)? I think that has a nice ring to it, although a more accurate title would be the LWJHL Bible (Love Wins, Holiness and Justice Lose).

But whatever they decide to call it, here’s a timely tip:

When you feel compelled to produce a new translation of
the Bible to support your doctrine, be willing entertain the
possibility that it’s your doctrine that’s wrong, not the Bible.

What do you think?

4. Encourage people to allow their personal opinions and feelings to trump what God’s Word clearly teaches.

Universalism encourages people to allow their subjective personal opinions and feelings to trump the perfection of God’s justice, the infinite holiness of His character, and the integrity of His inerrant Word. And the reason is simple: Universalism rocks! It makes a lot of sense to people! You can’t deny it—it sounds like a super loving, super merciful thing for a super loving, super merciful God to do, doesn’t it? I mean, c’mon…let’s jettison this medieval idea of hell and just focus on God’s great LOVE! It just seems so good and so right, you know?

Everybody makes it to heaven! Yay! What’s wrong with that? Don’t you want everybody to go to heaven?

Well, yeah. That would be fantastic! I mean, what kind of sicko would I have to be to want to see another human being tormented in hell for eternity?! In my opinion, Universalism is a terrific idea!

In. My. Opinion.

And there’s the rub: Every flawed, human opinion that pops out of my fleshly pea-brain doesn’t always quite measure up to the inerrant Word of the living God. Please hear me:

It doesn’t matter what I think.
It doesn’t matter what you or anyone else thinks.
It only matters what God says.

In other words:

We don’t tell God how things should be.
God tells us how things are.

That’s exactly why He gave us His Word in the first place, and that’s exactly why we are commanded to study it and rightly divide it.

Here’s a typical example of this from Tentmaker.org, and this attitude is pervasive at many such sites. In emphasizing God’s great love and mercy and His intention to save everybody who ever lived, much is made of verses such as the following, which I quoted earlier:

3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

(1 Timothy 2:3–4 AKJV / emphasis added)

Mr. Amirault states the following in support of Universalism:

There are basically three ways this passage can be interpreted:

1. The Arminian—God desires all people to be saved. He gave His only Begotten Son to save everyone. But He can’t save anyone except those who are willing to be saved.

2. The Calvinist—God has two wills that “appear” to contradict each other—His revealed will and His secret will. Even though His expressed will is for all people to be saved, He really doesn’t want anyone to be saved except for the elect whom He chose before the foundation of the world, and whom He effectually calls to Himself. They call this “apparent” contradiction a paradox or an antinomy. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. In other words, if it looks like a contradiction and sounds like a contradiction, it probably is.

3. The Universalist—God wants all men to be saved. He sent Jesus to die for all men. God is sovereign. Therefore all will eventually be saved.

Which one sounds most plausible? (bold emphasis added)

— Gary Amirault
“Refutation, Rebuttal, Exposition and Explanation of Universalism”

Now, don’t get me started on Mr. Amirault’s calculated mischaracterization of Arminianism (even though I do not fully subscribe to it), nor his equally calculated mischaracterization of Calvinism’s unconditional election (even though I do not fully subscribe to it, either). Nor his deceptively simplistic statement in support of Universalism (which I do not subscribe to at all). Never mind all that—notice the last line:

Which one sounds most plausible?

The kill shot. Translation:

What do you think? What’s your opinion? Don’t worry about making an honest effort to determine exactly what the Bible teaches and accepting it as truth. What seems right to you? That’s what matters.

It’s easy to see why this technique works so well these days, and that’s the simple fact that it plays well with today’s Snowflake Generation, with their mantra of “You’re judging me! Stop judging me!” Today’s tolerant, inclusive, it’s-all-about-me society eschews any hint of “judging” anybody or anything. Everybody’s way is valid. Everybody’s opinion must be respected and given full weight—heaven forbid some intolerant bigot come along and “judge” it to be (gasp) wrong. They fancy their opinion to be immune to judgment and entitled to an untouchable status. If it seems right to them, then right it is.

And it’s obvious they only want to hear about God’s love and mercy, and are quick to tune out anything about His holiness or His righteous judgment.

All that judgment stuff is so…judgmental. And stop judging me.

Perhaps a better question might have been:

Which of the above three statements,
if any, is actually biblically sound?

And it may very well be that “4. None of the above” is a legitimate answer…but that’s a topic for another day.

A dead heat

I admit that the doctrine of Universalism has valleys of deep theological arguments that can outstrip my limited ability to thoroughly digest. In spite of that, however, over the years I have become convinced of one thing:

In most cases, the plain truth of God’s Word is not all that terribly difficult to ferret out from the plain text of Scripture with a modest amount of diligent study and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture is absolutely replete with passages that make it as plain as can be that all men, rather than being guaranteed a ticket to heaven thanks to God’s great love and mercy, must at some point during their earthly lives humble their hearts before God and place their faith in the grace and mercy He expressed to us through Christ, which was only made possible by the fact that Christ satisfied His Father’s requirements for perfect holiness and justice while we were yet sinners.

What Scripture is absolutely devoid of, however, is any hint of unregenerate men who spurned God’s offer of grace and mercy throughout their entire lives being given a second chance to repent and come to faith at some point after they die, after spending an unspecified length of time in (a non-eternal) hell. This is an invention that must be read wholesale into Scripture, and the end result is…well, a Protestant version of purgatory.

It’s unbiblical for Catholics, and it’s just as unbiblical for anyone else.

Universalism cannot make God’s love trump His holiness and His justice, nor can it provide a way for people to spend their entire earthly lives rejecting Him only to be given a second chance to repent and have faith after they die and enter the spiritual realm, where the basis for such saving faith will have been rendered null and void.

Is God’s love overwhelming? Yes! Is it worth being strongly emphasized? Yes!It’s worth being shouted from the pulpit of every church on the planet! But God’s love must not be twisted into a doctrine that circumvents His holiness and justice, because it was His holiness and justice that made it possible for that love to be expressed to us through Christ in the first place.

So, my response to those like Rob Bell and other Universalists, who fail to see that God’s love—no matter how unsearchable its depths—can not be demonstrated at the expense of the other intrinsic characteristics of His divine nature, is simply this:

Love wins! Oh, wait…no, it’s a photo finish!
Love, justice, and holiness are in a dead heat.

If you want to see God’s love in action, don’t look for it in a doctrine that brushes aside other equally important aspects of His divine character. You need look no further than an old rugged cross on a hill called Mount Calvary.

Oops, sorry…there I go again with the gospel songs.

 Greg Lauer — 2018/#7 

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