What's wrong with the doctrine of Universalism?

Lately there has been a resurgence of discussion about the idea of Universalism among Christians. According to a survey [1], 25% of evangelical Christians believe in Universalism. This is somewhat disturbing, because Universalism is not taught anywhere in the Bible! In this article we will examine what the Bible says related to this topic, and examine what the results mean.

What is Universalism?

What is Universalism? According to [1], Universalism is a belief that "all human beings will eventually be saved after death". Thus, even someone who died as an atheist, would eventually accept Jesus in the afterlife and become a Christian, and be allowed into heaven.

That includes people like Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Stalin, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Darwin, etc. (not to say these people are equal, but they all did/do not believe in God and most Christians would not expect to see them in Heaven). Some Universalists go so far to say that even the demons and Satan himself might repent and come back to God.

What's wrong with Universalism?

So, what's wrong with Universalism? On the surface it doesn't really seem like a bad teaching - it's tolerant, accepting, hopeful. If God really was "good", then of course He would let everyone into heaven, right? How could a "loving" God send anyone - even Hitler - to hell for eternity?

Unfortunately, Universalism - like Purgatory - is a completely non-Biblical concept. Christians may be attracted to the idea and to want to justify it because they cannot see how God could send nice people to hell just for not believing in Him. They may want to believe that eventually their Muslim, Hindu, or Atheist friends or family may end up in Heaven. But the Bible teaches clearly the opposite - that hell is eternal, and all people who do not believe in Jesus will be sent there. Let's examine some of the problems with the teaching of Universalism.

Universalism Removes the Importance of Life

One problem with the idea of Universalism is that it devalues life. Why would God bother to have us live on Earth if we can just repent in the afterlife? Why would the Bible emphasize the need for faith (believing even though we may not have 100% proof) if we could just wait, die, and then make up our minds? God does not give us a chance at life unnecessarily - life is a precious gift where we have time now to choose Jesus. Perhaps in the afterlife that chance to repent will be gone, which is why it is so important to make up our minds while we are still alive.

Universalism makes Jesus' Death Unnecessary

I don't believe God does anything that is unnecessary. Just before Jesus was arrested to be crucified, he prayed to God "Don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want." (Mark 14:35-36). Jesus did not want to die on the cross, and if there was any other way for people to be saved and go to heaven, I'm sure God would have answered Jesus' request. If Jesus' death doesn't pay for sins, and God can just forgive anyone he wants, then why would Jesus have had to die? It doesn't make sense.

It is clear in the Bible that the only way someone can go to heaven is if they have believed that Jesus' death pays for their personal sins (Romans 3:22, John 3:18, John 3:36). It can't get any clearer than John 14:6: Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV).

Universalism makes Christians Complacent

I believe a Christian who believes in Universalism will become ineffective at evangelism. After all, if everyone ends up in heaven eventually, why does it matter if they believe in Jesus or not? A Christian who has this attitude won't bother trying to talk to people about God because it won't change anything. Plus, it would make them look "intolerant" by claiming that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and nobody likes that nowadays do they? Better to be all-inclusive and non-controversial and not risk standing up for the truth, right? This is the attitude that is promoted by Universalism.

Also, Universalism may make Christians complacent about their own eternal destiny. Why should they bother to study the Bible or pray to God if they get to go to heaven anyways? Christians might slack off, and may even put people in danger of hell if they do not feel the need to repent and trust in Jesus for salvation.

Universalism is not in the Bible

Probably the verse that most people would think promotes Universalism is Isaiah 45:22-24: "I invite the whole world to turn to me and be saved... Everyone will bow down and worship me. They will admit that I alone can bring about justice. Everyone who is angry with me will be terribly ashamed and will turn to me.".

This idea is repeated in Philippians 2:10-11: "So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, 'Jesus Christ is Lord'."

However, does this mean everyone ends up in Heaven? I don't think so. I believe these verses more likely refer to the clarity people will have after they die and are forced to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). At this point, face to face with the God of the Universe, no one will be able to deny that God is indeed God, and does deserve worship. However, after the Great White Throne Judgment is complete, "Anyone whose name wasn't written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:15).

So even though people will finally see who God is, and will admit that Jesus is God, it does not stop them from going to hell. In fact, James wrote "You surely believe there is only one God. That's fine. Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear." (James 2:19). Some demons who saw Jesus cried out "Jesus, Son of God, what do you want with us?" (Matthew 8:29). Another said "Jesus from Nazareth, what do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are! You are God's Holy One." (Mark 1:24). So merely accepting that God exists and Jesus is the Son of God does not indicate that one has submitted their life to Jesus and trusted Him for salvation.

The Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man

Even Jesus promotes the idea that hell is forever, and you cannot move from hell into heaven. He tells the story of a rich man who dies and goes to hell (Luke 16:19-31). All of Jesus' parables start with "The kingdom of heaven is like" or something similar. This story does not have this introduction. This may indicate it is a true story about a real person that Jesus knew did actually go to hell.

We need to note several interesting features about hell in this story:

  • The man was able to see heaven (Luke 16:23). This is similar to how people (and demons) will one day recognize that God exists and Jesus is God, but are not saved (see previous discussion).
  • There is a "deep ditch" separating heaven and hell so that no one can get from one side to the other (Luke 16:26). This shows that it is impossible to cross over to heaven even if a person changes their mind while in hell.
  • The man never shows that he has repented of his sins. All he wants is comfort and for someone to prevent his family from ending up in hell also. Perhaps this indicates that once a person is dead, they are no longer able to choose to repent. This could be why the Bible says "This is the day for you to be saved"(2 Corinthians 6:2). If you happen to die tomorrow, today may very well be the last day you can be saved. Why risk waiting until you are dead to find out if you can repent or not?

The Great Divorce

C.S Lewis discusses the possibility of repenting after death in his fictional book "The Great Divorce"[2]. In his story, people from hell are allowed to visit heaven, and people from heaven can even try to convince them to repent and stay in heaven. But in the end nearly all the people from hell absolutely hate heaven, and some even demand to take their loved ones from heaven to hell so they can be together in hell instead!

If a person does not love Jesus with all their heart, heaven would be an unbearable place to live, and they may well prefer hell, as strange as it seems. Can you imagine an eternity of hearing people only talk about Jesus, and how great He is, and how loving He is, etc. if you personally wanted nothing to do with Him? If a person prefers their sins and doesn't want to follow Jesus now, why would that change in the afterlife? Why would God let someone into heaven who only wants comfort and doesn't actually love Jesus?

But God Wants Everyone to be Saved, Right?

Another of the common verses to support Universalism is 1 Timothy 2:4 "God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth.". So if God wants them to be saved, then they will, right? No, in fact the people who use this verse forget what comes right after it. The full verse is "God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, There is only one God and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God.".

God does want everyone to be saved, but they must choose for themselves to follow Jesus in order to be saved. God does not override our free will and force us to accept Jesus. Similarly, God cannot force everyone in the afterlife to go to heaven. Love is only valuable if it is freely chosen - a forced love is not useful and genuine. Why would God give us a choice to follow Jesus or not while here, and then disrespect the free will of those who choose "wrong" and force them to accept Jesus anyways later in the afterlife? God doesn't work like that, and won't force people to love Him forever in heaven.

I once heard the quote: "Hell will stand forever as a testament to human free will.". God gave us all free will in the hope that we will freely love God, and want to be with Him forever. Unfortunately, for those who do not want to be with God, God says "OK, have it your way.". Hell is the complete absence of God, and since God is everything Good, when you remove God all that is left is Hell.

Hell is Definitely Eternal

If any Universalists teach that Hell is not forever, then they are going against several clear quotes from the Bible. Some of these are:

  • Then the devil who fooled them will be thrown into the lake of fire and burning sulfur. He will be there with the beast and the false prophet, and they will be in pain day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)
  • Those people will be punished forever. (Matthew 25:46)
  • But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (John 3:36)
  • Their punishment will be eternal destruction, and they will be kept far from the presence of our Lord and his glorious strength.(2 Thessalonians 1:9)

Now, some people argue whether it will be eternal conscious torment, or whether people will be just destroyed permanently. This is an argument for another time, and is somewhat discussed in my article about hell here. But either way, the people in hell are never indicated as moving from hell to heaven.


After examining what the Bible says, it seems clear that the teaching of Universalism is false. Not everyone will be saved and able to live in heaven. Universalism may sound like a nice concept, but if it is not Biblically accurate then Christians should not believe in it. Universalism may encourage Christians to be complacent about their relationship with Jesus, and may discourage them from trying to teach others about Jesus.

Christians now need to be encouraged to share about Jesus to their friends and family who are not Christian. If we can only choose God in this one life, it is more urgent than we can know. Someone you know may die tomorrow, and then it will be too late.

According to the U.S Census Bureau, approximately 155,000 people die each day [3]. Each of those people will no longer have a choice about their eternal destiny. Please consider today while you are still alive to trust in Jesus for salvation, and then you can be sure that you will spend eternity in heaven. To get started, maybe you would like to check out my article here.

[1] www.Christianpost.com - "Many Born-Again Christians Hold Universalist Views, Barna Finds" - by Jennifer Riley
[2] C.S Lewis - The Great Divorce
[3] U.S Census Bureau - World Vital Events