A common interpretation of the death of Jesus on the cross is that He died to pay the price for the sins of every person who ever lived. This is known as universal atonement. It is then said that we must accept this gift in order to receive salvation and gain entrance into Heaven. A person who does not accept the gift is not saved and will end up in Hell.
I don’t agree with this interpretation but for the sake of argument I am going to grant it and then ask a couple questions. To be saved two things must happen. First our sins must be paid (atoned) for. Second, Christ’s righteousness must be applied to us. Both must happen or we can’t enter Heaven,
Now for a couple questions.
- On what basis does God send a person to Hell once Jesus has paid the price for all the sins of that person?
- What does it say about God when you consider that He was unable to save someone who He really wanted to save?
As to question # 1, since Jesus paid the penalty for ever sin of every person who will ever live there are no sins left for anyone to pay for themselves. Since there are no remaining sins, there is no basis for sending any non-believer to Hell. Non-believers are no longer guilty in the eyes of God. The dilemma is that the person can’t go to Hell because they have been justified through Christ’s death on the cross and the person can’t go to Heaven because they have not accepted God’s gift and had the righteousness of Jesus applied to their lives. In this situation the non-believer is left in limbo. What does God do with them? Is this a case for Purgatory?
Some might say that Jesus died for all of the sins of a person except the sin of unbelief. This does not help them either. If Jesus did not die for all of the sins of a person, then that person has no way to avoid Hell because. There is no sin, not a single one, that a person is able to make atonement for themselves.
Anyone who believes this way must be able to answer this dilemma. It is very prevalent today. I heard it just this past Sunday. The problem is that most people who believe this never take the time to think it through. I know that I didn’t when I believed this way.
Question 2 deals with God’s ability. Is God able to accomplish His will or not? If He is, then how can someone whom God wants to save not end up saved? The standard answer you will here is that the person is free to reject God. The problem is that this makes the person equal to or more powerful than God. This is not possible. By definition, the creator is always greater than the creation. God is not God if His will can be undone by one, or all, of His creations. Do we really serve a God who is sitting in Heaven waiting to see who will be saved and who won’t? How do you respond to this description of God?
This is not a complete examination of this question. It is just a couple quick thoughts which I hope will spur some conversation in the comments. If you believe that Jesus died for all people then please take a few minutes to think through these questions and lets discuss what you come up with.