As long as I can remember, I have never been comfortable with labels. I guess it goes back to when I started school and found myself in that vague zone between those who already knew how to read and those who didn’t. Those who could read were labeled "normal readers" and attended the regular reading class. Those who couldn’t read were labeled "non-readers" and were placed in the beginners class. Well, since I could read a little, but not well enough to be labeled a normal reader, I floated (quite uncomfortably, I might add) back and forth between the two groups, never really feeling a part of either.
Now I am an adult who can read, thankfully, and reading has helped me better understand the wideness of the grace of God. However, that uncomfortable feeling about labels has come up again as I study this wonderful good news in the Scriptures. Those who actually believe that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by human works are sometimes labeled pejoratively as "universalists," implying that that they believe that everyone will be saved regardless of whether they ever come to know and trust Jesus Christ.
I don’t believe that, of course. I know that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, and although Jesus has drawn all humanity to himself and reconciled all humanity to the Father, only those who believe it can embrace and enjoy his free gift.
But I do believe that no one is left out of God’s grace and love, and that what Jesus did, he did for every person who ever lived. What they ultimately do with the salvation he secured for them is another matter. But maybe I am a "universalist" in the sense of believing in the power and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit toward humanity. And maybe I am even a hopeful universalist" in the sense of thinking that God is so loving and so faithful and so persistent that maybe he will eventually win the allegiance of even the most evil and rebellious and stubborn of his children.
Is that kind of "universalism" a good thing or a bad thing?
A couple of questions come to mind.
1. If God finally does win over everyone when all is said and done, would that be a bad thing?
2. If God proves to be so good at his work of salvation that in time everyone freely ends up accepting his grace and love, would that be contrary to God’s stated will and purpose?
For me, the answer to both questions is "NO!"
People coming to faith is a very good thing, and it is precisely God’s stated will and purpose.
John 3:16-17, for example, tells us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." God is not in the condemnation business; he is in the salvation business, and he is good at what he does.
The apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1:19-20, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
First John 2:2 tells us, "[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
Jesus tells us in John 12:32, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time."
And the apostle Peter declared, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
But does the fact that God wants everyone to come to repentance mean that everyone finally will?
Well, frankly, I don’t know. God does not check with me on such things. What I do know is that God loves the world, has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, and has made Christ the atonement for every human being. What I do know is that Christ draws all people to himself, is the ransom for all people, and doesn’t want anyone to perish.
So if God himself proves to be the supreme Universalist in his faithful love and power for salvation, who am I to argue with him about it?
The fact is that God will do what he will do to save people, and he uses means and methods far above our skills and understanding to do so.
As Paul said in Romans 11:32-36, "For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."
So I will just let God (as if he needs my permission) do his thing and I will delight in whatever way it plays out through Jesus Christ. When someone loves you as much as God does, you can trust him with anything and everything, even with your as yet unbelieving loved ones.
If that labels me a "universalist," so be it. However, I would prefer, if labels are needed, to just be known as a believer in the name of Jesus Christ and leave the things of God, including my life and the lives of everyone else, in his faithful and loving hands.
Richard Parker lives in Southern California with his wife, Sally. He pastors two churches, writes, and is active with Public Access TV. His blog site is: JustMoreReligiousThoughts.blogspot.com