What is universalism? In a nutshell, universalism is the belief that everyone, regardless of their relationship with God, will be allowed into heaven. Repentence and faith in the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse from sin and make us new creatures is done away with in universalism, a philosophy which states that there will be no damnation of any soul, regardless of whether a person has accepted Christ, rejected Him, or for that matter, outright hates His very name.
Universalism is most commonly found in liberal denominations and churches, and walks hand in hand with modernistic notions of God which emphasise His love in the extreme, without balancing their viewpoint with any sort of notion of God's justice and holiness. Most often, one may hear a universalist use a phrase such as, "A loving God would never condemn anyone to hell!" By saying this, they forget the Scriptural principles of Divine anger against uncovered sin, Divine justice and wrath against said sin, and Divine holiness which cannot allow that sin into the presence of God in heaven.
Universalism is a damnable and dangerous heresy for the simple reason that it lulls those foolish enough to believe it into a false sense of security. It tells people that there will be no punishment for sin, that they don't really have to worry about getting right with God, since He's just going to give you a free pass into the Promised Land anywise. This philosophy leads people into hell because lost and dying sinners are robbed of the news that they are condemned before God and need to turn to their Saviour Jesus Christ in repentence and receive the free gift of salvation.
But what does the Bible say about universalism, specifically? Let's begin by examining the primary tenet of universalism, that of universal (of course), automatic salvation and entry into heaven for all, regardless of their relationship with God. Jesus spoke, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:13-14) Jesus makes it quite clear in this passage that the way into heaven is one which not many people will find. It's narrow, it's hard to traverse, it asks us to take up our cross and follow Him, which many are unwilling to do, to their own destruction.
What exactly is the pathway to heaven? As the Lord Jesus Christ said, "...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) This little verse, oft-quoted, is packed full of important implications which many find uncomfortable. It carries the message that there is only ONE way to be saved and enter into heaven, and that this way is through Jesus Christ. It implies that other religions, ANY other religion that doesn't preach a message of salvation by grace and faith in Jesus Christ, are incorrect and propagating damnable falsehood. It declares other religions than Bible Christianity to be false. It is anti-ecumenical. It is divisive.
That's exactly what it was meant to be. John 14:6 was purposed to give the clear message of exclusivity, denying all but Jesus Christ. This is one reason why modern day liberal "Christians" love universalism so much, they are uncomfortable with divisive doctrine. "Doctrine divides", they say. You bet it does.....it divides the true Christians from the pew-warming wannabes and false teachers.
So, we see that Jesus taught an uncomfortable, exclusive message concerning salvation. We see this message clearly taught, which should be understandable to all who read or hear it. So what's the problem? Why are there still professing Christians who continue to blind themselves to this simple message? As we've seen already, many are just liberals who despise doctrinal soundness, and likely don't really believe the Bible all that much anywise. They'll feel free to pick and choose what they want to believe and disbelieve from the Word of God, filling in any gaps with their own worldly philosophies. That's what happens with the "But a loving God would never send anyone to hell!" crowd. They can't bring themselves to submit to the plain teaching of the Word of God and insert their own ideas of God into the equation.
That phenomenon is called "preaching another Christ". It's condemned quite strongly. Paul wrote, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto to you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8-9) Paul felt so strongly about the matter that, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he issues the same condemnation of preaching a false gospel, ANY false gospel including universalism, TWICE.
But I digress. The verse in Galatians above leads us to the second reason why hereticks propagate the false gospel of universalism, when we read verse 10 of that same chapter, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Many liars preach universalism so as to please men. They fear the disapproval of the masses in their congregations, and preach a soft, feel-good message designed to tickle the ears of those listening. The Bible tells us that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ will be an offence to the unsaved, that they won't want to hear what we have to say about their need for salvation and their damnation without it. Universalism gets around all that for a false teacher, since they can preach an easy way, not offend anyone, and still collect their fat parishioner check at the end of the month.
Thirdly, many people believe and teach a universalistic philosophy out of mere ignorance or misunderstanding of the Scriptures. The verses below are commonly used (and misunderstood) by people trying to show that the Scripture teaches universalism.
"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (I Timothy 2:4)
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men." (Titus 2:11)
"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentence."(II Peter 2:9)
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?"(Ezekiel 18:23)
These, and verses like them, are misunderstood, and thus wrested, by the unlearned or deceitful. All these verses refer to God's DESIRE to see all humankind be saved and enter into His Rest. God wants us to be saved, which is why He commands Christians to carry the Gospel to the lost, so that they have this opportunity to be saved. However, these verses do NOT carry in them the meaning that all people WILL be saved, or that God's ACTION is to give automatic entry into heaven to all. In fact, the last two verses (II Peter 2:9 and Ezekiel 18:23) delineate a very important aspect of the salvation process - repentence. Repentence must be made before one can truly be saved. A person must not only feel bad or sorry for their sin, but also purpose in their heart to turn away from their sin and to God, asking Him for forgiveness of their sins. Hence, God states in both of those verses quite clearly that before life can be given, repentence, turning away from sin, must be made. This is at odds with the univeralistic "I'm okay, you're okay, let's all skip-to-the-loo into heaven" message.
Thinking on the question rationally, would we have been given the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:47) if it were God's intention to grant a "Get into heaven free" card to every human being who ever lived? Why would God have committed unto Christians the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18) unless it were necessary for people to be reconciled to God? Thus, we see that universalism, in addition to being unscriptural, is also logically flawed.
So what's the bottom line? It's this: there is ONE way to heaven, and this is through repentence and faith in Jesus Christ. It is a false doctrine to contradict this and teach that many or all ways are acceptable, and that all people are granted immunity from the wrath of God just out of some vague, and unscriptural, notion of God's love.
What does this all mean for the unbeliever? If you are unsaved, and have been reading this, I hope and pray that God has spoken to your heart about your need for salvation. There is no other way to escape the wrath of God BUT through Jesus Christ. If a person dies in their sin, unrepentent and unredeemed, they have only an eternity of miserable punishment in hell awaiting them. My friend, there is no reason to gamble with your soul. Answer the Lord's calling upon your heart! Turn to Him in faith! Repent of your sins, and throw yourself upon His mercy, which He has promised to grant freely to all who turn to Him ("All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." - John 6:37) Respond to His calling, and let Him make of you a new person, one destined for eternal life in the presence and glory of God Almighty!