Last week we looked at Romans 8:1-4, verse 1 states:
There is, then, now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit; Romans 8:1 YLT
I made the statement last week that it is ONLY those "in Christ" that are not condemned. And we saw that the "condemnation" here takes us back to chapter 5 dealing with Adam's sin. The condemnation here is spiritual death. So those in Christ have no spiritual death. There are those "in Christ" and there are those "outside." Paul is not a Universalist. If Paul was a universalist he would have said, "There is therefore now no condemnation to anyone! But he didn't, he said that only those in Christ are not condemned. I want to go back to that thought this morning and talk about the Doctrine of Universalism and see what the Scriptures have to say about it. I have been getting questions about this erroneous doctrine, so I would like to address it.
What is Universalism? It's the religion of the masses. According to Universalists, everybody goes to heaven. Let's begin with a definition: Universalism is the teaching that God, through the atonement of Jesus, will ultimately bring reconciliation between Himself and all people throughout history. This reconciliation will occur regardless of whether they have trusted in or rejected Jesus as Savior during their lifetime. As with any doctrine, there are many varieties of Universalism. For example, there is the belief in Conditional Immortality, which holds that an opportunity will be given after death for the acceptance of Christ, that acceptance will mean salvation, while rejection will be followed by extinction. There are, however, certain ideas common to every form of Universalism: They all view the character of God as animated by sheer benevolence rather than by a holy love.
Belief in universal salvation is almost as old as Christianity itself and may be associated with early Gnostic teachers. The first clearly Universalist writings, however, date from the Greek church fathers, most notably Clement of Alexandria, his student Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa. Universalism was taught in the school that Origen presided over at Alexandria in the extreme form that all fallen beings, not excluding the devil and his angels, who do not repent in this world, shall pass through prolonged chastisement in the world to come. In the end, through these sufferings and the instruction of superior spirits, they will undergo a change and be brought to bliss. Origen's views were strongly opposed by Augustine of Hippo and were condemned by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 543). At the Reformation the sect known as Anabaptists adopted this view as regards both men and devils, and John Calvin wrote a tract condemning it.
This doctrine is congenial to human nature. Most unbelievers think that when someone dies they go to heaven. What do people usually say when they lose a friend or loved one? "We know they're in a better place now." This doctrine goes back to what the serpent had to say to our first parents: "Ye shall not surely die." God says that sin leads to death, but people don't want to believe that, they'd rather believe the serpent.
Universalists all quote Scripture texts in support of their views, and by the manipulation of texts removed from their context, they make out a plausible case for the positions they hold. There are many verses that use "all" and "world" in relation to redemption. When looking at these verses, we must keep in mind the primary rule of hermeneutics, the "analogy of faith"--the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.
The basic presupposition of Universalism is that God loves everybody. They focus solely on God's attribute of love. To show that this is a Universalist position, let me give you a couple of quotes from the web site, "Plan Guide to Universalism" (http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/univ3.html ).
We believe there is one God, whose nature is love; revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
God is love, and love worketh no ill. 'God is love' (1 John 4:8). 'Love Worketh no ill' (Rom. 13:10). This is a very forcible argument. God's nature is the very essence of benevolence, and benevolence cannot be the origin of endless evil. If love worketh no ill, God can work no ill, and, therefore, God cannot be the author of endless evil.
God loves all mankind. 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16), and, as Jesus died for all men, so God loves all men. This argument adds great force to the last.
Let's look first at God's nature. To say that God is love is the truth, but is it the whole truth? No! Love is one attribute of God, but He has many others: holiness, mercy, grace, justice, omniscience, immutability, sovereignty, and on and on we could go.
God's attributes are His characteristics, excellencies, or qualities exercised visibly in His work of creation, providence, and redemption. We call them attributes, not because we add them to the essence of God, but rather because they inhere in Him. They were and ever will be His. They tell us something about God's substance, His invisible essence.
Apart from an objective standard, we can make God to be anything we want. What is our objective standard? The Bible! The Bible is the self revelation of God. If we are going to know God, we must learn of Him from the Scriptures. The problem is that most everyone believes in a "god" of their own invention. They have made up a "god" that they are comfortable with--a "god" who is only love. He loves everybody and puts up with everything. He's just a nice gentle old man! This is not the God of the Bible!
A.W.Tozer wrote: "Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God."
Is it right for us to pick out one attribute that we like about God and reduce Him to that attribute only? No, when we do this we have created a God of our own liking. This is idolatry! Believing the wrong thing about God is idolatry. When we think of idolatry, we think of somebody in a mud hut with a little god on his table that he bows down to. Or we think of a pagan temple, very elaborate and ornate with a lot of people burning incense. But idolatry is much broader than that. Idolatry is simply thinking something about God that is untrue of Him. It is postulating anything about God that is not right. In its fullest stage, it is creating a god. In its secondary stage, it is making the God who is into something that He isn't. And maybe in its third level, which even Christians are guilty of, is thinking thoughts about God that are untrue of Him:
"These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes. 22 "Now consider this, you who forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. Psalms 50:21-22 NASB
Are you like Israel in this passage--do you think God is like you? Do you think of God as a gentleman who wouldn't hurt a flea. Does your God dismiss sin?
Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Psalms 97:2 NASB
God is holy and just, and He must punish sin. Even the slightest sin defies the authority of God, insults His majesty, and challenges His justice. Because of our sin, we all deserve God's WRATH according to:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Romans 1:18 NASB
God does not hide His wrath. He reveals it, that is, He discloses it, brings it to light, makes it known. He expresses it, not in violent, uncontrolled explosions, but nevertheless by definite, observable acts. Whenever it is expressed, it is always against ungodliness and unrighteousness. In other words, God's wrath, unlike ours, is always expressed against sin.
Does God have a right to display his wrath? Does He have a right to display His Justice? Yes! Wrath and Justice are as much a part of His character as are mercy, grace, and love. Many people have difficulty imagining God finding any glory in His wrath, but He does. He is pleased with His wrath. It is just as much an attribute of God as is His love.
In his book, Almighty Over All, R.C. Sproul Jr. writes this excellent statement: "We cannot imagine God looking at His wrath like unwanted pounds He wants to lose, if only He had the power. No, God is as delighted with His wrath as He is with all of His attributes. Suppose He says, 'What I'll do is create something worthy of my wrath, something on which I can exhibit the glory of my wrath. And on top of that I'll manifest my mercy by showering grace on some of these creatures deserving my wrath.'"
So when Universalism says, "God's nature is the very essence of benevolence," they're not wanting to acknowledge His attributes of wrath and justice.
Universalism also says, "Jesus died for all men, so God loves all men." This is one of the main presuppositions of Universalism; God loves everybody. Does the Bible anywhere teach that God loves every human being, from Adam to the last human ever born? Or does the Bible teach that God hates some people, as well as loves some other people? Yes, it does, look at:
Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." Romans 9:13 NASB
So there are those God loves, and those He hates. Paul is quoting from Malachi:
"I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have You loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness." Malachi 1:2-3 NASB
Some say that what Paul is talking about here is the election of a nation as over against nations, and not election of individuals. That's really a foolish argument. If it is unjust for God to select one man over another, why is it okay if he selects one nation over another? Aren't nations made up of individuals?
The quotation from Malachi 1:2 is in reference to the nations that descended from Jacob and Esau, respectfully, Israel and Edom. The prophet is here reproving the Jews for their ingratitude. As a proof of His peculiar favor, God refers to His preference for them from the first.
Some try to twist it by saying that hate doesn't mean hate, but it means to "love less," or "to regard and treat with less favor." Hate is used in this way in several passages:
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:26 NASB
Here hate would have the idea of "to regard with less favor." But in the original context of Malachi 1:1-5, loving less hardly fits with the visitation of judgement:
but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness." Though Edom says, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins"; thus says the LORD of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever." Malachi 1:3-4 NASB
This doesn't sound like hate means: "loving less."
"Jacob have I loved." That is amazing! God doesn't owe any of us His love. And that He would choose to love any human is amazing. But men act like they deserve God's love. They don't, they deserve His wrath. We must see that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love. What I mean is that He loves whom he chooses; God does not love everybody. Now I know that when I say that, people get upset, but it is clearly what the Word of God teaches. He didn't love Esau, that is very clear. Now how will you argue, will you say that He loves everyone but Esau?
One of the most popular beliefs of our day is that God loves everybody. But the idea that God loves everybody is a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans will be searched in vain for any such concept. The fact is that the love of God is a truth for the saints only. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four Gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus Christ telling sinners that God loved them. In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God's love is never referred to at all. Does that seem odd to you? But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of the truth:
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." Hebrews 12:6 NASB
God's love is restricted to the members of His own family. If He loves all men, then the distinction and limitation here mentioned is quite meaningless. God only chastens who He loves, which is a reference to believers, the elect.
What about John 3:16? Does it teach that God loves everybody? It seems to:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 NASB
Doesn't this prove that God loves everybody? No, remember, He hated Esau. You must admit the Bible says that. Let's put it in the form of a syllogism:
Major premise: God hated Esau
Minor premise: Esau is part of the world
Conclusion: God doesn't love everyone in the world.
The word "world" in John 3:16 is not used to mean every single person that ever lived:
"You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:2 NASB
Why did God only have a special relationship with Israel and leave all the other nations to walk in darkness? Because He didn't love them, and He loved Israel.
The word "world" often has a relative, rather than an absolute, meaning. For example:
So the Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him." John 12:19 NASB
Was everyone in the world going after Jesus? No! Many were trying to kill Him:
"Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence." Acts 19:27 NASB
Did everyone in the world worship Diana? No!
In John 3 Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a Jew. The Jews believed that God loved only them. What John 3:16 is saying is that God's love is international in its scope, He loves Gentiles as well as Jews:
"For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." John 6:33 NASB
He didn't say offers life, but giveth. Gives necessarily implies its acceptance. Does Christ give life to everyone? No, world is here limited to the world of the elect:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. John 13:1 NASB
Jesus loved those in the world who belonged to Him. God loved Jacob and He hated Esau. Why? God is sovereign in the exercise of His love.
So, God does not love everyone, and Christ did not die for everyone; the atonement was limited. Christ died with the intention of saving His elect. He gave His life "for His sheep" (Jn.10:11). To be sure, the value of Christ's person and work is infinite. His death, therefore, was entirely sufficient to atone for all the sins of all the men who ever lived. But of course, it was not designed to do that. We know this, very simply because His mission, as He defined it, was to save "those whom the Father had given Him" (Jn.6:37-39). Christ died for "His" sheep, not the goats:
even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. John 17:2 NASB
"I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; John 17:9 NASB
Notice that Christ doesn't pray for the world, but only for His sheep--the elect. His life was a ransom, not for all, but for many.
so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. Hebrews 9:28 NASB
Again, Christ bore the sins of many, not all. The essential issue here concerns the nature of the atonement. Christ's atonement was only for the elect, it was limited. So God does not love everybody, and Christ did not die for everybody, but for the elect.
The Universalist will say, "We can add nothing to Jesus' act on the cross to save us, NOT EVEN BELIEF." The Bible teaches that faith is a gift of God, but it is only given to the elect. Faith is an evidence of God's election:
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 NASB
Notice who it was who believed. The ones who were appointed to eternal life believed. Who appointed them? God! Clearly, the reason that they believed is because they were appointed:
The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. John 10:24-26 NASB
Many today would say, "You're not of my sheep, because you don't believe." But that's not what our Lord said; He said, "You don't believe, because you are not Mine, you're not one of My elect." They didn't believe, because they were not appointed to eternal life.
Churcheanity is so lopsided on the issue of love that we have decided that God must love everybody! And if He doesn't love everybody, then He can't be our God. I think that most of churcheanity believes that they are worthy of God's love and goodness. People actually think that God owes them. In this twisted view, God is the debtor, and man is the creditor.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 5:24 NASB
Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will not see life, they are under the wrath of God. Believers have already passed from death to life and will not come into judgment:
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." John 12:32 NASB
Are we to take this to mean that God is drawing everyone to Himself? No, we have already seen that God does not love or choose everybody. And because of that, He does not draw everybody. We need to look at the context of this verse:
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. John 12:20-22 NASB
Here we have Greeks who want to see Jesus. What do Gentiles have to do with Christ? He is the Jewish Messiah! "All peoples" here is used of "people of all races." God is going to draw Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, bond and free. This passage doesn't teach Universalism.
The unforgivable sin
The Universalist states that there is no unforgivable sin because all people who have ever lived will ultimately be reconciled to God; in other words, all sins from all people who have ever lived will be forgiven. However, the Bible teaches that there is a sin that will never be forgiven:
"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31-32 NASB
I'm sure that countless numbers of people have read this in their Bibles and wondered if it applied to them. Jesus clearly states, "...but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven." The contrasting preposition "but," is from the Greek "de." The use of the word "but" is showing that there is a contrast, or an exception to the previous statement, "any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people." All sins are forgivable, but blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not. That is why the word "but" is there, to show that there is a qualification, an exception to the first statement.
So we really need to understand what "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" is. The word "blasphemy" is a compound word made from the Greek words "to speak" (phemi) and "to hurt" (blapto). It describes the act of speaking of someone in a hurtful way.
Blasphemy is the opposite of praise and worship. Praise is to speak good of someone. Worship is to assign worth to someone. Blasphemy is to speak evil and to attempt to take worth away from one that is deserving of such. Blasphemy is speaking evil against God. This is a serious sin. In the First Testament, it called for the death of the offender:
'Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. Leviticus 24:16 NASB
Blasphemy was a serious crime. It was a capital offense. And yet, even blasphemy can be forgiven. The Apostle Paul confessed to having been "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor" (1 Timothy 1:13), but he was shown mercy.
All sin is forgivable--except one. So, it is imperative that we understand what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The problem here is that Bible teachers can attach a meaning to this that was never intended by the Lord and thus hold people in guilt and fear. Listen to how one author describes this sin: "The great majority of modern Christian theologians teach the Doctrine of Cessationism. Cessationists teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased in the 1st century A.D. According to these learned seminarians, the gifts of the Holy Spirit just died out because they were no longer needed. The history of the Western Church is the history of the opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. If blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is in fact the worst sin one can commit, as Jesus has said, then how are we to characterize Christian Churches that believe in cessationism?"
According to this man, I'm committing the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and I'll never be forgiven. With interpretations like that no wonder so many are troubled by this verse. Do you see what he is doing? He is saying that anyone who questions what He is doing is blaspheming the Holy Spirit and will never have forgiveness.
If this man is not correct, and he's not, what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
In context, the scribes had been given all of the evidence. They had seen the miracles. They had heard the teachings. And they still rejected Christ. They have just accused Him of performing miracles by the power of Satan. They have witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit, and they said, "That is Satan!" They pointed to the Holy Spirit and said, "Unholy and unclean!" They rejected the very One, Jesus, in whom it was necessary to believe in order to receive forgiveness. As a result, there remained no possibility of forgiveness.
These scribes made the most serious accusation: that what Christ had done by the power of the Holy Spirit in testimony to His Messiahship, was attributed to be the work of the devil. Jesus was saying that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that is revealing who He is and what He came to do. The power of the Holy Spirit has made that so evident. The clear revelation of Christ as the Messianic King, affirmed by the unmistakable healing and deliverance by the power of the Spirit, was totally rejected and declared to be of the devil. They attributed the work of God to Satan.
So blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is witnessing Jesus Christ performing a miracle and then attribute that power to Satan instead of the Spirit. They saw Jesus do miracles and rejected Him. Today, people read in the Bible of Jesus' miracles and still reject Him.
The only unpardonable sin is to physically die having rejected Jesus as Savior. Any sin today can be forgiven. But if they deny the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is no means by which God can forgive them--because they have denied the only way to salvation. That's the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin is to deny Jesus as the Christ. Every other sin can be forgiven. But to reject Jesus Christ as the Savior leaves no means by which God can grant forgiveness:
"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 NASB
It shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. There are only two ages spoken of in the Bible and this sin won't be forgiven in either one of them. Universalism has all men forgiven, the Bible does not. In the context of this passage men were committing this sin, they would not be forgiven. They would not be saved:
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. John 14:6 NASB
That truth is stated over and over and over again in the New Testament--that Jesus is the only way of salvation. But many in churcheanity are very offended by that, so they will refer to us as being intolerant, rigid, judgmental fundamentalists. They want to be considered Christians, but they deny the very essence of Christ Himself. So if the unforgivable sin is to reject Jesus Christ, then all who reject Him will perish.
For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." Romans 9:15 NASB
God says, "the principle upon which I work is this, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.'" That is a formal declaration of divine prerogative. God is sovereign in the exercise of His mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that attribute of God by which He pities and relieves the wretched. The objects of mercy, then, are those who are miserable, and all misery is the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment, not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms. God gives mercy to whom He pleases and withholds mercy as it seems good to Himself.
Only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will receive God's mercy, and only those who God has chosen will believe. God's attributes of wrath and justice will be displayed on the non-elect. God does not love, nor does He save "all" men.
I see Universalism as an attack on the Gospel. Over and over the Bible calls upon man to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" for salvation. But Universalism says, "You don't need to believe in Jesus, all will be saved." The Philippian jailor asked, "What must I do to be saved?" And the answer of the apostles was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." But the Universalist would answer the jailor, "You don't have to do anything, all men will be saved."
Can a Christian be a Universalist? Or we could ask, Can a Universalist be a Christian? Universalism is clearly a false teaching, but can Christians believe and promote false teaching? Sure they can. Have you ever heard of Zionism? Dispensationalism? Arminianism? Are there Christians who hold those views? Sure there are. Universalism is not a biblical doctrine, but a Universalist could be a Christian if he or she believed on Christ and Christ alone for their salvation.
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