The Universalist's Salvation
by David J. Barnes
Universalists state that if a person does not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour in this lifetime, there is another opportunity to do so "after death." Let's examine this assertion.
The writer to the Hebrews says (10:26),
"For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."
To whomever this applies, the clear indication is that there is no second chance for some under certain conditions. There comes a point in which Christ's sacrifice no longer applies. So there is a line drawn - an end point - past which there is no salvation. Unlike the universalist who asserts that salvation is an open-ended process undeterred by death, the author of the Hebrews does talk about a time in which Christ's sacrifice is no longer relevant. And if Christ's sacrifice no longer "covers" this time-frame and condition, then salvation can no longer be obtained in that "zone".
That is unless the universalist decouples salvation from Christ's sacrifice. Which the universalist does either overtly or covertly.
Let's see how the universalist dissociates Christ's sacrifice from the process of salvation.
Universalists talk about God saving everyone. They're pinning their hopes on God doing this, not necessarily Jesus. Whenever a universalist asks a Christian, "Don't you believe that God has the power and will to save everybody," the focus is on God and not on Christ. Paul said to the jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." The focus for Paul was Christ, not God. Christ was the means through which God effected salvation. There is no other way. Paul experienced problems with the Israelites of his day precisely because he focussed on Jesus Christ, not on a universal God acceptible to the Hebrews, the Romans and the Greeks! One cannot rely abstractly on God's will and power as an argument for salvation. Christ is the fulcrum of salvation. And as the writer to the Hebrews says, Christ's sacrifice is not an open-ended, unlimited process. It has an end.
Just what is the process of salvation and is it repeatable indefinitely? The Bible says that "there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood." Blood was painted on the door posts of the Hebrews in Egypt before the exodus. They were spared; the Egyptians were not. Jesus is the door through which we pass; his blood cleanses us on our way to heaven. The Book of Revelation (7:14) shows those who have arrived there "washed in the blood of the lamb". Note that the Book of Revelation never shows anybody in heaven NOT ALREADY washed in the Lamb's blood.
Question: for those who have not been washed in the blood of the lamb prior to death, how do they get to heaven unwashed? There is nothing in the Old Testament model of salvation that shows anyone not passing through the Red Sea (a type of Christ's blood) arriving in the land of milk and honey. There is nothing in Paul's writings that hints at a salvation process different from belief in Christ's sacrifice. So how do the "unwashed" come into heaven in order to get a chance at salvation? Once one dies and is in heaven, there is no process of regeneration. Those who have died in Christ and are in heaven have passed through the blood in order to get there. One doesn't get there and then pass through the blood. Otherwise there would be sin in heaven attached to the one coming in "unwashed". The Red Sea passage of the Hebrews in Exodus PRECEDED the arrival into the land of milk and honey.
The universalist implies that this process of passing through the blood is an experience repeatable in heaven. Not one New Testament writer EVER says that the cleansing process of Christ's blood is an experience repeatable after death. "Today is the day of salvation," says Paul, not tomorrow. Otherwise the apostles' testimonies would be irrelevant in this life. Why not just wait for everybody to get up there and then apply the blood. The disciples did not go around preaching a salvation apart from a belief in Jesus here and now. Belief in Christ was never seen as a deferable experience past death for any New Testament writer.
Paul says that "flesh and blood" cannot inherit the kingdom of God. There is no blood available in heaven to cleanse the unclean. Those IN heaven have already passed through the blood of the lamb. The universal apologist is banking on an abstract quality and power of God to "save" men in some future when God has already invested His will and power in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ there is no salvation. Nowhere is it written or shown in the New Testament that Christ's blood and sacrifice is made available to anyone in heaven.
As Peter says, he who has died is finished with sin. There is no cleansing for those who have died. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, it says that there is an uncrossable gulf between the condemned and the saved. Uncrossable means exactly that. No way across. The gulf is never bridged in the parable whatever interpretation one places on it. There is no way across because those who have made it across are already there washed by the blood of the lamb. There is no other abstract, divine process to get them there if they haven't gotten there through the blood. The universalist is banking on some future, undefined experience of salvation that he cannot detail in specific terms (i.e., Christ and his sacrifice).
So what process apart from the blood of Christ does the universalist bank on for the salvation of all men? He is counting on some abstract quality of God, philosophically defined, to do the job. But this is not God's way. Very specifically Jesus is! And there is nothing in the entire Bible that shows Christ's blood atoning in heaven for those who somehow "might have gotten there" not through The Door marked by Christ's blood. If all are saved, then Paul did not have to preach Christ and endure the opposition of the Hebrew deists or theists of his time. He could have just gotten away with saying that "God, in whom we all believe philosophically, will save all of us" and the Israelites would not have been offended by Paul in the least. But they did find the cross an offense because it is the only way and it is not an undefined, abstract, ecumenical experience. Something universalists never focus on in their debates - the uniqueness of the cross, the sacrifice, Christ himself. Their words are always framed in abstract, philosophic terms - which is not the language of the Bible.
Relying solely on God's will to save anyone - that is not a principle in the New Testament. The salvation process is inherent in Christ and resides in Jesus' blood alone. God has turned it all over to Jesus. There is no other way. The universalist is a philosopher trying to dance around the salvation model and process presented to us in the Bible. Sadly the universalist obliterates all of the details of salvation in Christ by banking on "something in the future, something in God" and thus renders the gospel that is already here irrelevant. Is this Christian? Is that what Paul, Peter, John, James, Luke, Matthew, and Mark all worked and died for? Which is why Jesus himself never uttered those words "all men will be saved." He never could have motivated them with that line!
Published on the web with permission.
Check out David's other essay, A Challenge to the Universalist
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