Is Salvation Universal?
There is a belief system called Universalism which, in a nutshell, teaches that God is going to save all people—even those who do not believe Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God, or that his sacrifice was sufficient to atone for the sins of mankind.
Universalism is a religion and theology that generally holds all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God. A church that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a Universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine1
While there are, as in all religious belief systems, numerous divisions among those who refer to themselves as Universalists, I would like to concentrate our study on those who also refer to themselves as Christians. One of those Universalist sects is known as the “Unitarian Universalist Church.” What this sect believes is encapsulated in the following statement:
Unitarianism is the belief in the single personality of God, in contrast to the doctrine of the Trinity (three persons in one God). It is the philosophy upon which the modern Unitarian movement was based, and, according to its proponents, is the original form of Christianity. Unitarian Christians believe in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as found in the New Testament and other early Christian writings, and hold him up as an exemplar. Adhering to strict monotheism, they maintain that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God, perhaps even a supernatural being, but not God himself.2
According to this description, then, Unitarian Universalists consider themselves to be Christians because they believe in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and hold up his teachings as a pattern for their lives.
Since the Christian Bible is the only first century historical book in existence warehousing Jesus’ teachings, may we proceed there to find out exactly what his demands on his followers were, beginning with the first account of his ministry, Matthew,3 and see if these folks (or, for that matter, any religious sect claiming to follow his teachings) measure up to these demands, and if, in fact, Jesus himself taught, as they claim, universal salvation.
Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples, whom he chose in Matthew chapter four, begins in chapter five in what is famously referred to as “the sermon on the mount:”
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
First, followers of Jesus must observe the law. What law is he speaking of here? The one laid out in the Old Testament in what is known as the “Torah” (Gr.: Pentateuch), viz., the first five “books” of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Notice it says that followers shall not be guilty of breaking “one of these least commandments.” The apostle James, who was among the original twelve disciples, confirms this in his letter “to the twelve tribes”:4
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
But this isn’t all. It gets more difficult from here. Not only does Jesus demand that the law, in every point, be observed, but he expands it—magnifies it, if you will— into the realm of even visions and thoughts that are, in effect, tantamount to actual transgressions:
Matt 5:21-22; 27-29
21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
In chapter six and seven he continues:
Matt 6:19-20, 25, 34
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Now, may we have a show of hands of all those who believe they are in compliance with these demands. I submit to you that, if we were in a room full of Unitarian Universalists, not one, i.e., those who actually paid attention to what is said in these passages, would raise their hand. And as far as the universal salvation thing goes, doesn’t he say there, in chapter seven, that there are going to be those who claim to be followers, but whose fruits (works) will expose them as phonies, and that they will not get into “the kingdom of heaven”? In fact doesn’t Jesus say that only a few will enter in (Matt. 7:14)?
Just in case someone in the room did raise their hand, let’s see if they’re able to qualify under the next level of demands:
Matt 10:1, 5-14
1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
9 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,
Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
12 And when ye come into an house, salute it.
13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
Does anyone get the impression that the twelve, because they will not be allowed to carry any money with them in the mission upon which Jesus sends them, will be totally reliant on the beneficence of others for their survival? Wouldn’t this explain the commands , in chapter seven, not to think about any of the things everyone in the world thinks about (including Universalists), e.g., where you are going to stay, what you are going to wear, what you are going to eat, etc.? Moreover, isn’t it clear that Jesus instructs them not to go to the Gentiles,5 but only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”?6 Again, this doesn’t sound like universal salvation to me.
Of course there’s always some astute listener who will contend that it is the twelve disciples that he speaks to here, and therefore it is to them exclusively to which he is making such demands. Chapter nineteen debunks this notion.
16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
If anyone wishes to know what constitutes “a rich man,” this passage clearly says it is anyone who possesses anything other than the clothes on his back. Also notice here the subtle reference Jesus makes (verse 17) to himself as God. So much for the idea held by Unitarian “Christians” that he was merely a “great man,” or another one of the prophets.
It should now be evident to every honest inquirer, Universalist or otherwise, that salvation in these teachings is not only not universal, but it isn’t even universally offered. Indeed, it is only offered to a very small remnant of people, and only possessed by those who come into compliance with Jesus’ demands on their lives.
The Message of Salvation to the world is not in the four gospel accounts
I submit to you that no one in the world today is even coming close to being in compliance with Jesus’ demands on his followers in the four gospels. But how can anyone be saved, much less everyone? Obviously not by what Jesus demanded in his earthly ministry. While he taught many enduring universal principles in his ministry, his demands regarding followers are not meant for anyone living in the world today. Here is why. The message of salvation to the world today was reserved for the apostle Paul, who got it not from the earthly Jesus, but from the ascended, glorified Christ from heaven:
11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Salvation, through Paul’s revelation, is now universally offered to all people.
While in his earthly message, Jesus did not offer salvation to all, through the apostle Paul he does:
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
1 Tim 2:3-6
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
Please notice three things in these passages: 1. the law, which Jesus said( in Matthew 5), must be strictly adhered to, is removed from the equation, therefore; 2. salvation is now offered to all people, because Jesus Christ—the only mediator between God and man7–has fulfilled the law1 ; 3. Salvation is, however, only conferred upon “them that believe.”
But what, exactly, is it that we are required to believe? 1. That all men have “sinned and come short of the glory of God”;8 2. But that Christ died for all sins, was buried and raised again the third day9. 3. That salvation is now by grace through faith, not works10; 4. That all one must do to possess salvation is to believe this and receive it (eternal life) as a free gift.11
This clearly refutes the Universalist idea that everyone, regardless of what they believe, will ultimately be saved and have a place in heaven. Salvation, while universally offered to all, is not universally possessed by all, but rather only by “them that believe.”
None of us knows when this world in which we presently exist will come to its end. Neither do we know when the Lord will return to take his true church (“them that believe“) out of it. What we do know is that our individual lives will someday come to an end, and that we aren’t guaranteed another heartbeat, much less another day, week or year here. What we can know is, if the end of this life comes for us today, that we will be present with our Lord in heaven. In this respect may I ask you: are you personally assured of this? Have you ever trusted Jesus Christ and what he did for you at Calvary to secure your salvation?# Do you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you are saved, sealed and bound for heaven? If you aren’t sure, make this the day of your salvation by admitting to your lost condition, and then simply asking the Lord to save you. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
|3||Jesus never wrote anything himself. His followers penned all the accounts of his life and ministry.|
|5||lit., “the nations”|
|6||In chapter 15, verse 24, Jesus told a Gentile woman that the “lost sheep” were the only ones he came for.|
|7||Also ref. John 14:6|
|9||1 Corinthians 15:3,4; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21|
|10||Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6|
|11||Romans 6;23; 1 Corinthians. 15:1,2|
Rom. 10:4 ↩