Universalism: Will God Save Everyone?

Is Intelligent Design true? is evolution wrong? How old is the earth?

Recently, a friend asked me to look at a blog post and let him know what I think about it. This post might not make much sense by itself, because it’s my response to that article. Please take note: I haven’t written this to demean the author, but to discuss the idea of universalism with my friend. It’s too long to post on Facebook, and someone else might benefit from reading it, so I share it with you here. I appreciate the author’s desire to know the truth, and his systematic approach to his beliefs. I wish more people – Christians and non-Christians alike – would do the same. My disagreement isn’t with him, but with the conclusions of his article. Note as well that I’m only addressing the first of a series of posts. If someone asks, I may address the rest…but when the foundation of an argument has been removed, the whole thing falls down. I believe that the points raised here are sufficient.

To see if the author’s position is flawed, let’s look at his assumptions. The primary assumption in the article is that, because God is sovereign, He always gets what He wants…and, because He wants everyone to be saved, everyone will be saved. Let’s take a closer look.

First, the Bible does say that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Second, every Christian I know would say that God is certainly sovereign. That’s found throughout Scripture. So, why would I disagree with the author’s conclusion? Simple: he assumes that God’s sovereignty gives Him everything He wants. I’m not convinced.

It’s interesting that while the author claims that Calvinism is depraved, he duplicates their error. He claims that Calvinism’s problem is the combination of total depravity and unconditional election, but it’s really rooted in the same problem we’re talking about here: a misunderstanding of sovereignty. Calvinism teaches that God predestines some for Heaven and some for Hell and, because He is sovereign, we play no part in our own salvation. If we did, we could thwart God’s will…making us more powerful than God. That’s known in Calvinism as “irresistible grace”. The author teaches that God predestines everyone to be saved and, because of His sovereignty, everybody will be saved. That’s the textbook definition of irresistible grace…the author simply includes everyone, while Calvinists only include some. Both must ignore much of the New Testament to make their claims.

Let’s look at his use of THELO. He cites Thayer’s (the go-to Greek lexicon) to support his claim that THELO indicates God’s resolve and determination that all should be saved. Unfortunately, he’s only telling part of the story. There’s only ONE definition in Thayer’s: “to will, have in mind, intend”. That one definition has several shades of meaning:

  1. to be resolved or determined, to purpose
  2. to desire, to wish
  3. to love
    1. to like to do a thing, be fond of doing
  4. to take delight in, have pleasure

He cites Thayer, but doesn’t account for ALL of Thayer. I’m not saying that he’s being dishonest, but it does seem that he’s cherry-picking. Did Paul, when writing 1 Timothy 2, mean that God would be delighted if everyone were saved? Did he mean that God likes to save people? These definitions, without the context in which they were written, carry equal weight. In this case, the context of 1 Timothy 2 actually works against the author. Paul tells Timothy that believers should live their lives in specific ways. Why? Because God wants everyone to be saved. If everyone is going to be saved anyway, there’s no connection between the activities of Christians and the fate of unbelievers. That Paul wrote this passage presumes that it needed to be written.

Let’s look at the section where he addresses the word “all”. For the sake of discussion, let’s grant his point: that “all” literally means “every single person”. He points out the universality of the word with regard to being made alive, being reconciled to God, being justified, being offered mercy, and so on. He also (rightly) says that the subset is part of the larger group. If we’re granting his definition of “all”, and granting that the subset is part of the whole, why would we still disagree with his conclusion? Simple: none of those things are salvation.

1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t say that all will be saved. It says that all will be resurrected. The entire chapter, as one can see by actually reading it, is designed to convince the reader that Jesus was resurrected, and that everyone else will be resurrected as well. In fact, this passage also undermines the author’s claim. Verse 2 says that we are saved by the Gospel IF we hold firmly to it. Otherwise, we have believed in vain. If Paul believed that everyone would be saved, there would be no “if”. Verse 18 says that if there’s no resurrection, then “those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” If Paul believed that everyone would be saved, he would not write that ANYBODY could be lost. Verse 23 refers to Jesus’ second coming, and of those who ‘belong to Him’. Since some will NOT belong to Him, some will apparently not be saved.

The author then cites Romans 5, Romans 11, 1 Timothy 4:10, and 1 John 2:2, noting the use of “all” in each. The assumption in every case is that the passages indicate that all will be saved…but is that what Scripture, as a whole, teaches? No, it’s not. One of the best-known verses in the New Testament says that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). A lesser-known verse says that one (Jesus) died for all, therefore all died (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus died to take our place…that is, He died the death we deserved. Does that mean that, because the penalty for sin has been paid, everybody goes to Heaven? Look at the whole passage:

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:13 – 6:1

The author cites Colossians 1, which says that God has reconciled to Himself “all things”. Paul wrote Colossians, and he wrote the above passage in 2 Corinthians. When you look at the two, it’s clear that while God reconciled “all things” to Himself, there’s something else that must occur: we must reconcile ourselves to Him as well. God’s grace was extended to everyone, but that grace can be received in vain. Note the meaning of “in vain”…that it does no good, and doesn’t fulfill its purpose. What are we talking about in this passage? How, through Jesus’ death, God reconciled us to Himself. This passage guts the author’s view as well as the Calvinist view, because it puts the final piece of the salvation puzzle in the hands of mankind. God has done the work of salvation by coming to Earth and dying for us, but WE MUST RESPOND or it’s all for nothing.

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, expresses that mankind has both the freedom and the obligation to respond to God. From the call of the Old Testament prophets for the people to turn their hearts toward God to John the Baptist’s call to repent, our role in our own salvation is clear. Every mention of salvation in the New Testament becomes meaningless if the author, and the Calvinists, are right. Why write about turning our hearts toward God if salvation is only a matter of God forcing His will on us? If everyone will be saved, why encourage Christians to live lives worthy of respect that might lead to the salvation of another?

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the Ten Virgins, the Bags of Gold, and the Sheep and the Goats. In each section, He describes the day of His return in stark terms: some will get in, and some will be left out. There’s no indication at all that being excluded from God’s coming Kingdom is a temporary situation. The only way to find that in the text is to insert it yourself, because it’s not there. We could look at dozens of passages in which we are told to take responsibility for our salvation, and that not doing so is a grievous mistake. God, in His sovereignty, has not chosen to control us entirely. He gives us a measure of sovereignty, and expects us to use it to choose wisely.