This article is not intended to scripturally refute the false doctrine of never ending punishment. It is intended, however, to refute the idea that repentence is unnecessary if the doctrine of universal salvation is taught in the Bible. For more information on the passages that support the salvation of all click here or read the articles “The Work of the Cross” and “God’s Perfect Judgment” found on the home page.
by Ken Eckerty
Whenever I share the glorious truth of universal salvation, almost without exception, the first question that is asked is “If this is true, what motivation is there to repent since everyone is going to be saved anyway?” This is always the first thought of the natural man and it is, indeed, quite “natural” for him to ask. The natural man cannot understand the spiritual, and the carnal mind cannot comprehend the lofty things of God. We are earthly-minded people and we see and think in the natural. However, as with any truth, we must try to see things from God’s perspective rather than our own carnal ways. “God's ways are above our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.” So it is with this in mind that we seek to answer this commonly asked question.
Saved from Sin
The first error we make in asking this question is our assumption that Christ came to save us from “the penalty of sin.” This is commonly taught in the Church, however, this is unscriptural; Christ did not come to save us from the penalty of our sin, but from our sin itself.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." (Mt. 1:21)
It is our sin that is the problem, not the consequence of it. Of course there are consequences for sin, but the wages of sin is death NOT “eternal torment.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about preaching the consequences of sin, it is about proclaiming the truth that Christ came to save us from “ourselves.”
This is very important for us to understand for if Christ came to set us free from our sin then the reason for repentance is not because we fear some penalty but because we see the damaging effect of sin in our lives right now. Men should respond to the glorious gospel because they have come to see their sinful condition NOT because they are afraid of what God will do to them. To many, this is one and the same thing, but depending on which one we emphasize, this will effect what type of result we see in the lives of those we witness to. If our presentation of the gospel is to tell men that they should fear what God will do to them, we preach not the power of the gospel of Christ—which is the message of love found in the Cross—but instead we preach a man-made gospel that must resort to the use of fear tactics in order to scare people into the kingdom. The results of a fear-based gospel can never bring lasting peace, but in fact, will often turn people from the message that we are trying to proclaim. This type of fear message paints God as One who eternally holds a grudge, not as One who loves men so much that He died to set them free from the bondage of their sin.
Scaring people in order to get them to make a profession in Christ has been a popular approach by the church over the years and is a common evangelical ploy that is still very much used today. Every October, all across America, churches sponsor Halloween-type services enacting the (supposed) realities of life apart from God. An “invitation” is usually given afterwards, and many “receive Christ” as a result of this grand theatrical performance. Unfortunately, this is not a new tactic. All throughout history, church leaders and denominations have used these same methods to try to scare people into heaven. The Roman Church was notorious for using the doctrine of “eternal” torment and purgatory to keep the masses under the strong arm of their authority. And what glorious result do we have from the preaching of their perverted “gospel?” We have a history of mass imprisonments, tortures, persecutions, and inquisitions—all done in the name of the “gospel.” Many in positions of church authority had absolutely no problem with torturing those who did not submit to them and they rationalized it by using the excuse that God will torture sinners forever. An extreme example is Queen Mary (1516-1558) of England, who won her title “Bloody Mary” by torturing and murdering non-Catholics. She justified her actions, proclaiming “as the souls of heretics are to be hereafter eternally burning in hell, there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the divine vengeance by burning them on earth.” Obviously, this is an extreme case, but nonetheless we see this same fear-based message throughout history from evangelists lauded as great men of God because of the sheer numbers of converts.
Tertullian, one of the early church fathers said, “At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness…” Thomas Aquinas said, “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly, and give more abundant thanks for it to God, when a perfect sight of the punishment of the damned is granted them.” Reverend J. Furniss, C.S.S.R in his book The Sight of Hell (A Catholic book for children) said this:
Little child, if you go to hell there will be a devil at your side to strike you. He will go on striking you every minute for ever and ever without stopping. The first stroke will make your body as bad as the body of Job, covered, from head to foot, with sores and ulcers. The second stroke will make your body twice as bad as the body of job. The third stroke will make your body three times as bad as the body of Job. The fourth stroke will make your body four times as bad as the body of Job. How, then, will your body be after the devil has been striking it every moment for a hundred million of years without stopping? Perhaps at this moment, seven o'clock in he evening, a child is just going into hell. To-morrow evening, at seven o'clock, go and knock at the gates of hell and ask what the child is doing. The devils will go and look. They will come back again and say, the child is burning. Go in week and ask what the child is doing; you will get the same answer, it is burning; Go in a year and asks the same answer comes--it is burning. Go in a million of years and ask the same question, the answer is just the same--it is burning. So, if you go for ever and ever, you will always get the same answer--it is burning in the fire.) -- (Quoted from Christ Triumphant by Thomas Allin)
John Calvin, an early reformer (followed by millions of Christians today), believed that babies would burn in hell fire. Charles Finney was a famous evangelist who used guilt, condemnation, and fear tactics to get people to “make a commitment” to Christ. One wonders how many of Mr. Finney’s converts actually became true disciples of Christ. And most everyone has heard of Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon, “Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God.” This sermon is one of the most “respected” and well-spoken of sermons ever preached. However, in my opinion, it is one of the most vile and disgusting presentations of the “gospel” the world has ever heard. Here is a quote from this sermon:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
What a terrible thing to preach! GOD ABHORS YOU? YOU ARE ABOMINABLE IN HIS EYES? HATED MORE THAN A VENOMOUS SERPENT? These are lies that come directly from the “father of lies” who hates God and will do anything he can to mar His glorious image. Do you want to know what God really says about us? Paul writes to the Assembly at Corinth,
How that God was in Christ--conciliating a world to Himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses.... (2 Cor. 5:19)
Did you get that? GOD IS NOT RECKONING, TO THE WORLD, THEIR TRESPASSES. Why? “Because God has conciliated the world to Himself!” This is quite different from what Jonathan Edwards would have us believe. Here’s a passage that might be a little easier to understand. “For God so loved the world....” Beloved, GOD LOVES THE WORLD, He doesn't abhor it. Oh, true, He hates the deeds of the flesh, but He LOVES men. This is why He sent His Son—because of love, not because He abhors us! Men accuse me of perverting the gospel! What about Jonathon Edwards? What about these terrible “fire shows” that do nothing but scare men and tell them to repent or else they will burn in hell forever?
The truth is that when Adam sinned, God told him exactly what the consequence would be. “In dying, you shall die.” (Gen. 2:17) Notice, God did not say that man would burn in some “eternal” torture chamber separated from Him forever. (See NOTE 1) He said man would die—and die he did. Man was dead spiritually and was dying physically, and one day he would cease to breathe the breath of physical life. He immediately found himself in a “body of death” that would produce nothing but death. And if man continued in this state without God’s intervention, he would never have any hope of ever escaping death’s grip. The plain truth is that if Christ had not come and given Himself for us, mankind would simply die and remain in the ground (Hades) becoming the very dust from whence he came. (See NOTE 2) There would be no possibility of resurrection—no possibility of new life—only endless death. But thanks be to God that Christ came and died for men and was raised as the “Resurrection and the Life” that whosoever would believe in Him would not remain in a state of death—now or after his physical departure from this world.
My dear friends, this is the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ is the way, the truth and the LIFE. He is the only hope for us to escape the very sin that keeps us from experiencing true life. We must tell men that God loves them. Let us remind them that God has already conciliated the world to Himself in Christ, and that He no longer reckons their trespasses to them. Yes, we must tell men of the consequences of sin (death, not “eternal” torture) and warn them that God will judge ALL men (including us pious Christians). However, let us remember that Christ came to save us from sin—from the slavery of the corrupted mind, from the darkness of not knowing true life in Christ, and from the fear of death that has kept us in bondage our whole lives (Heb. 2:14). If we keep this focus, our gospel will be one of power for it will rest in the truth of the love of God in Christ as demonstrated by the Cross.
NOTE 1: Many say that the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is proof that the Bible teaches a conscious place of torment after death. Taken in proper context, this was nothing more than a strict rebuke of the Pharisees (representing the nation of Israel) who had squandered the oracles of God, became self-righteous, and refused to be a light to the nations. Jesus was prophesying the cutting off of Israel (suffering in Hades) and the grafting in of the Gentiles (Lazarus) to the promises of Abraham (Abraham’s bosom). The warning of Jesus’ words to us are just as applicable as they were to the Pharisees. The writer of Hebrews says, “for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” (Rom. 11:21). Nevertheless, using this parable as a proof text for never-ending punishments is ludicrous and taken totally out of the context in which Jesus taught it. (See article explaining the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man)
NOTE 2: The majority of the church teaches a doctrine called the “immortality of the soul” which says that the soul of a man is immortal and will live forever—either in a state of life or one of conscious spiritual death. You cannot find one scripture, not one, that says that man is immortal or that his soul is immortal. Eccl. 9:5, 10 says that “...the dead know not any thing...for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in Sheol, there where you go.” This false doctrine along with the improper interpretation of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man are used by evangelicals to fuel the terrible lie that God tortures men forever. Understanding that without an impartation of life from the True Source of Life, man would simply cease to exist and go back to the ground without any consciousness and without any hope. It is only God who has the power to grant immortality to men, for “ONLY He is immortal.” (1 Tim. 6:16) (See http://www.savior-of-all.com/immortal.html)
Properly interpreting the Word of God in this area is critical because if we eliminate the false notion that rejection of Christ immediately sends men to a place of conscious torment, then we take away the false gospel of fear that men preach and put emphasis on WHOM it should be, that is, “the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.”
Saved “from” Death?
The Bible does not teach us that we are saved “from” death. We are certainly saved from the FEAR of death (Heb. 2:14) and the PERMANENCE of death (1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:18), but NOT from death itself. It is true that if Christ had not come or if He had somehow failed in His attempt at saving the world, we would have no hope of life and the permanence of death would be our end. But glory be to His name! He came and conquered both death and Hades (grave). (1 Cor. 15:55) Death would no longer have a permanent effect on men, nor would Hades be able to hold mankind forever.
Christ did not come to save us “FROM” death. The truth is we are saved “THROUGH” death, and if the Church only understood this, she would understand the purpose of the “second death” spoken of in the book of the Revelation. [See the article titled God's Perfect Judgment for a better and more thorough understanding of God’s judgment (death)].
I have dealt with this same subject in a previous article, so I will not dwell at length here. For our purposes here, however, it is sufficient to know that Christ “learned obedience by the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:8) and was MADE perfect (5:9) through this process of death (Heb. 2:14; Heb. 5:7). Is it such a hard thing, then, to see that if Christ was saved “out of” or through death, then we, too, must go through this same process of death in order to grow from newborn babes to mature sons and daughters? Did not Jesus say that there would be no fruit unless the seed was broken and die? (John 12:24) Did not Paul follow the same example when he told us that “I die daily” and that he “bore in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life of Jesus should be made manifest?” (1 Cor. 15:31; 2 Cor. 4:8-12)
Understanding this principle (typified in the Old Testament and make abundantly clear in the New) is important, again, because of HOW we present the gospel. Are we presenting a message of fear, which means to scare people into believing, or are we proclaiming the true gospel that focuses on the love of Christ in God the Father? The former may lead to numbers of converts, but the latter leads to genuine repentance. Remember, it is the “goodness of God that leads to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4)
NOTE: For One of the best scriptural explanations of the principle of death bringing forth life, see Andrew Jukes’ The Restitution of All Things, main point II.
This argument of “Why repent if men are going to be saved anyway?” is very similar to the response of those in Paul’s day who resisted the gospel of grace because of fear that it would lead to licentiousness. In the last part of Romans, chapter three, through the end of chapter five, Paul explains the glorious message of justification by faith. This was a new revelation to the Jews since, for them, justification had always been by the keeping of the law. The Judaizer’s argument to Paul’s new message is found in Romans 6:1: “What shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” They rationalized that if God was going to save apart from the law, this would lead to moral abuses, and so the law was necessary in order to keep men in line. This is exactly what I hear from opponents of the truth of universal salvation. They say, “it is necessary to teach the doctrine of never ending punishments because otherwise there would be no reason for men to repent.”
First of all, to clear up any confusion concerning those of us who believe in the “reconciliation of all things” (Col. 1:20); we DO NOT tell men that they should not repent. Repentance is a necessary part of the salvation process. Both Jesus and the apostles taught it. “God is commanding men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) It cannot be made more clearly.
Secondly, we do not tell men that they do not have to worry about their wicked lifestyle because “God is going to save them anyway.” If we are living as salt and light in this world, we should be exposing the wickedness in men’s lives without even saying a word. Our testimony of Christ exposes the darkness of men and makes the light and glory of Jesus Christ all the more beautiful. It is when we LIVE righteously in this evil world that we have the most powerful testimony. The reason why most of the Church resorts to fear tactics is because she is not being a faithful and true witness of her Savior. Words are cheap and the hypocrisy of the Church is clearly evident to the world. So instead of preaching the true gospel of love, she resorts to a “hell, fire, and brimstone” gospel that maligns the character of God and makes Him out to be a monster worse than Adolph Hitler.
As to the charge that men would have no reason to repent if there is no “eternal torment,” tell that to the poor drunk who is in the gutter who would NOT benefit NOW from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Tell that to the hurting, despondent woman who has been deserted by her husband whose life would not be changed for the better if she knew Jesus Christ RIGHT NOW. Tell the broker who has just lost everything in the stock market that he doesn’t really need to be saved NOW but that Jesus is his ticket so he won’t have to burn in “hell” later. The truth is that men need Jesus Christ right NOW! They need His love, and His peace, and His life-changing power—TODAY! They need to be freed from the power of sin—RIGHT NOW!!
Service out of Love or Fear
Along with the argument we just looked at, I’ve had believers ask me, “Why should I live holy if it doesn’t matter in the end?” Frankly, I'm almost embarrassed to even have to address this question. Should we serve God because we fear Him or because we love Him? Does it not please God when we live a holy life before Him? Does God not get great pleasure to see His Son becoming more and more preeminent in us? Do we not understand that there will be great rewards (in the Kingdom age) for those who live “godly in Christ Jesus?”
It is the same ignorant thinking that we have just addressed concerning the need for unbelievers to repent. As believers, do we need Jesus Christ NOW or don’t we? Do we not experience great joy when we walk in obedience to our Master? Can we not endure tribulations more patiently when our eyes our fixed on Jesus? Is Christ nothing more to us than One who gives us a ticket so we can escape the “fiery torments of hell.”
I'd like to quote Elwin Roach:
Many consider this teaching to be dangerous to those who believe it. How so? What danger could there be for one to believe in a God who loves His creation so much that He not only can, but will save them by drawing them to Jesus and His cross? The hearing of this Good News would, no doubt, cause a few insincere “believers” to go into more apparent sin, saying, “If everyone is going to get saved in the long run, what’s the use of serving God today? Why not have a little fun while I still can?” Sadly, such people were never serving God in the first place. They merely had the bit of the law in their jaws, and with the threat of eternal damnation removed, they promptly fill their lives with what was harbored in their wanton hearts.
To really understand just what we’ve done to the gospel message, we must understand the difference between law and grace. The law of God is synonomous with His judgment. How do we know this? Very simply, anyone who tries to justify themselves by the works of the law will be condemned (judged). No matter how holy the law of God is (and it most certainly is), no amount of human effort can ever achieve righteousness by trying to keep it, and so consequently the result will always be judgment. When God says He is going to destroy workers of iniquity, this is God’s law in action. Grace, on the other hand, is free from any human effort whatsoever. It is a quality that is totally of God and has nothing whatsoever to do with the effort of man. The true gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of grace, not law.
Whenever we put more emphasis on the consequences of sin rather than the remedy for sin, we are preaching a gospel of law rather than a gospel of grace. Please don’t misunderstand me on this point. I am not saying that we should not use the law at all to bring sinners to a conviction of sin. According to Paul, the law acts as our tutor to bring us to Christ. (Gal. 3:24) There is nothing wrong with handling the law of God correctly in getting the sinner to see his need for the Savior. Jesus did this quite often. He would quote the law to show men how utterly impossible it was to keep it. Later, James wrote, “if you stumble in one point of the law, you are guilty of offending the whole law.” (Ja. 2:10) However, using the law correctly and using it the way the modern Church has used it are two completely different things. If you go by the words of Jonathan Edwards, God is mad at you and ready to strike you dead at any moment. But Paul says that God is not mad at you. (2 Cor. 5:18-20) In fact, the New Testament tells us that Jesus IS the Savior of all men (1 Tim. 4:10), and that God has already conciliated the world to Himself. This, my dear friends, is the gospel of grace. However, as we’ve already seen in the first section of this paper, this is not the gospel that we are seeing presented by the evangelical church today. There is an unhealthy preoccupation with the false doctrine of “eternal” torment. Instead of preaching a gospel of grace emphasizing the work of Jesus Christ, we are preaching a gospel that centers more around judgment and fear, than love.
This has been a short article addressing perhaps one of the most frequent arguments against universal reconciliation. For over twenty years, I was a believer in the false lie that God tortures men forever, and the ironic thing was that even though I believed and preached this doctrine myself, I never really felt comfortable with it. I would daresay that the majority of believers are like myself. From behind the pulpits of the organized church bellow the harsh warnings of the consequences of an individual’s decision to reject Christ—the descriptive phrases like the ones used by Jonathan Edwards, the grand theatrical Halloween shows that scare little children and make a mockery of the love of God, and the cries of the clergy pleading with sinners to repent or they will burn in “hell” forever. Yet, whenever I saw individuals sharing the gospel with hurting people, outside of the four walls of their church, I never heard much about “hell” fire. This, to me, is extremely telling. This tells me that this lie is coming from our leaders, not from the sincere saint who is trying to minister the love of God. It’s easy to come out of seminary, stand behind the security of a pulpit, bound by a doctrinal statement, protected by a denomination, and backed by centuries of the traditions of men screaming and pleading that God is going to burn you forever and ever. However, when you get one on one with a sinner, it usually is a much different scenario than what comes from our pulpits.
No, most people, who really care, understand that people do not respond to fear or threats. Those who truly desire to be an example of Jesus Christ know that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17) Oh, they know there is a future judgment, but they are slow to point their finger of judgment because they know that they, too, are going to be judged. I find it very telling that the only people that either John the Baptist or Jesus ever rebuked were the Pharisees—the religious RULERS—yes, the equivalent of our pastors and evangelists today. I wonder what Jesus would say about the scare tactics that have come from our pulpits all in the name of God’s justice? The apostle James appropriately spoke when he said, “My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (Ja. 3:1)
I write these things in fear and trembling knowing that God will hold me accountable for every word that comes out of my mouth. “Judgment begins in the house of God,” and I'm afraid that when the words that are spoken from our pulpits have been judged on that Great Day, the fire of God's judgment will not leave much standing when it shall reveal what is true and what is false. I will be thankful when the false doctrine of “eternal torment” shall be revealed for what it is—wood, hay, and stubble. (1 Cor. 3:11-15)