In Christian theology universalism is the heretical belief that ultimately all people will be saved (reconciled to God) through the atonement of Jesus, regardless of what they believe – and regardless of whether or not they accept Jesus Christ.

This belief violates an essential doctrine of the Christian faith, namely that salvation is only obtained by faith in Jesus Christ.

Universalism states that sooner or later all people will be saved. This position holds that the concepts of hell and punishment are inconsistent with a loving God.

The older form of universalism, originating in the second century, taught that salvation would come after a temporary period of punishment. The newer form of universalism declares that all men are now saved, though all do not realize it. Therefore the job of the preacher and the missionary is to tell people they are already saved. Certain passages – John 12:32, Philippians 2:11, and 1 Timothy 2:4 – are typically twisted out of context in support of universalism.

Such passages, interpreted properly, do not support universalism:

  • John 12:32 says that Christ’s work on the cross makes possible the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. Notice, however, that the Lord – in the same passage – warned of judgment of those who reject Christ (v. 48).
  • Philippians 2:10-11 assures us that someday all people will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but not necessarily as Savior. (Even those in hell will have to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship.)
  • First Timothy 2:4 expresses God’s desire that all be saved, but does not promise that all will be. This divine desire is only realized in those who exercise faith in Christ.

The Scriptures consistently categorize people into one of two classes (saved/unsaved, also called believers/unbelievers), and portray the final destiny of every person as being one of two realities (heaven or hell).
– Source: Ron Rhodes, Is Universalism Biblical?offsite

Universalism teaches that all people will eventually be saved through the atonement of Christ. It says that all mankind, even those who have openly rejected Jesus, those who have willingly committed horrible crimes and died without repentance, and without the covering of Christ’s blood, will enjoy a future with God. This belief is based upon the idea that God’s love is so infinitely great, that His grace in Christ is so awesome, that everyone will be saved.
– Source: Matt Slick, The Danger of Universalismoffsite, CARM

The universalistic theory holds the idea of universal redemption. For example, a certain number of Scripture references are used to prove that Christ died for all men alike. Therefore all men alike shall be saved in the end.

Universalism uses such texts as Paul’s when he said: “We preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). Certainly the Apostle could not have meant that he expected every man that ever came into the world to be made perfect in Christ. The words “every man” could refer only to those to whom Paul addressed his Epistle; namely, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (1:2). This theory does not deny that all men are lost by sin, but it contends that all men will finally be saved and enter into everlasting life.

Universalism falls when it overlooks the Biblical fact that salvation and everlasting life are applied to no one apart from his personal acceptance of it as a divinely bestowed gift to “whosoever will.”
– Source: Lehman Strauss, The Eternal Punishment of the Lostoffsite, Bible.org

Christ and the apostles were constantly warning people of God’s wrath and judgment on sin and urgently calling them to repentance. Hence if universalism is true, Christ and the apostles were either ignorant or grossly deceptive.
– Source: Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrineoffsite, H. Wayne House, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1992. Page 110.

The opposite of universalism is known as as Christian Particularism.

Updated, Wednesday, March 02, 2011 – 10:05 AM CET

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This post was last updated: Mar. 2, 2011