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I've been having a rough week, wondering what it would be like to give up Catholicism and be a Unitarian. But I was wondering, how have universalist leaders taught their adherents to avoid temptation without the constant threat of Hell?

As a Catholic I really hate sinning because:

  1. It makes me unhappy or sort of badly happy.
  2. It chops me off from grace in some way that I can't quantify.
  3. I have to go to confession and I REALLY don't want to do that.

So, without the Sacraments and the threat of Hell, what do Universalists do to stay on the straight and narrow?

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    Is the first sentence supposed to say Unitarian? Or Universalist?
    – user32540
    Sep 25 at 1:11
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    @Peter You could ask the same question to any churches which teach the doctrine of the preservation of the saints. Only churches that teach you can lose your salvation would link hell and continuing resistance to sin.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 25 at 1:21
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    Here is a really easy book to read on hell that will challenge the tradition view that has cause so much suffering for many people. It also shows a plan of God for mankind that includes redemption for everyone who's ever been born. Take the time to look at scriptures whenever studying these things. Studying words on the interlinear it's very helpful. darrellscottbooks.com/Hell-Myth-or-Reality_p_29.html
    – Sherrie
    Sep 25 at 17:04
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There are two forms of universalism - (1) Christian Universalists who believe Jesus is the only way to God and that all people will eventually accept Christ at some point throughout eternity, (2) Universalists who believe that all roads lead to God or some form of ultimate reality. I cannot speak for (2) and while I do not belong to (1), I can understand the Christian Universalists position on sin.

For any Christian, there are not only negative reasons not to sin (judgment, confession), but also positive reasons. Positive reasons include:

  1. Righteous living results in Shalom - if we love God and others with our actions, we make the world a better place for everyone. Sin is bad because it breaks us and others.

  2. Obedience to God results in peace and joy that no circumstances can take away. For those with God's Spirit in their hearts, obedience to God brings joy because we obey out of love for God.

  3. Obedience results in peace in our lives and in our hearts. It is the peace of knowing that we are at peace with God and others to the best of our ability.

True obedience to God is motivated by love for God; not chiefly by fear. So a Christian Universalist has every reason to obey God out of love.

Moreover, the Christian Universalists believes that one day all people will obey God - so why not start now?

In fact, George Macdonald, a well known Christian Universalist, used the following rationale to show that God's goal is not the punishment of sin but to bring every person to a place where they loathe and overcome the sin in their lives. This quote shows that to the Christian Universalist sin itself is the enemy to be defeated to heal humanity.

“Punishment, I repeat, is not the thing required of God, but the absolute destruction of sin. What better is the world, what better is the sinner, what better is God, what better is the truth, that the sinner should suffer—continue suffering to all eternity? Would there be less sin in the universe? Would there be any making-up for sin? Would it show God justified in doing what he knew would bring sin into the world, justified in making creatures who he knew would sin? What setting-right would come of the sinner’s suffering? If justice demand it, if suffering be the equivalent for sin, then the sinner must suffer, then God is bound to exact his suffering, and not pardon; and so the making of man was a tyrannical deed, a creative cruelty. But grant that the sinner has deserved to suffer, no amount of suffering is any atonement for his sin. To suffer to all eternity could not make up for one unjust word. Does that mean, then, that for an unjust word I deserve to suffer to all eternity? The unjust word is an eternally evil thing; nothing but God in my heart can cleanse me from the evil that uttered it; but does it follow that I saw the evil of what I did so perfectly, that eternal punishment for it would be just? Sorrow and confession and self-abasing love will make up for the evil word; suffering will not. For evil in the abstract, nothing can be done. It is eternally evil. But I may be saved from it by learning to loathe it, to hate it, to shrink from it with an eternal avoidance. The only vengeance worth having on sin is to make the sinner himself its executioner.”

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  • Perfect love casts out all fear? Sep 25 at 16:54
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I'm not a universalist, but I don't think that matters because the answer is really the same for all Christians. What you're missing is any sort of relational motivation.

When you know your parents love you unconditionally, do you take their love for granted? Do you stop caring if you upset them? If you're married, do you want to treat your spouse as though your marriage covenant with them does away with any future need for love and affection? No. Instead, the deeper the relationship, the more we want to love, cherish, and care for those in our families. We don't have a transactional attitude of trading good acts with each other. And we don't live in constant fear of being abandoned, because we trust each other.

Well these human relationships are models for the ultimate relationships we have with God. God is our ultimate Father who loves unconditionally and forgives liberally. Christ is the husband of the Church, giving his life to save and redeem us. We don't need the fear of hell to motivate us to avoid temptations and sin, because we have the positive motivations that come from our desire to please our Father, to live in harmony with Christ.

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    Fear plays a part. "And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." - Luke 12:4-5 Also "work out your own salvation with fear (phobos) and trembling". Sep 26 at 13:05
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    @MikeBorden True, though the Biblical concept of 'fear' is a little bit foreign to modern minds. CS Lewis's description of Aslan as a "good but not tame" lion is apt. The Christian is not meant to be terrified of God or of hell, but neither do we trivialise God in our minds.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 12 at 15:18
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    @MikeBorden Also, once we have truly experienced receiving grace from Jesus (from our posture of true repentance from our biggest sin), we have the incentive NOT to sin again because we don't want to disappoint him. If you must call it "fear", it's fear to hurt Jesus's heart, which is already one level more filial than fear of punishment (which is the fear of a slave). Oct 12 at 15:55
  • @GratefulDisciple Acts 9:31. IMO, there needs to be a balance between the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit: Without the former I am complacent and without the latter I am stricken. I am bothered by the rendering of "fear" as mere "reverence" in modern pulpits. God is still a consuming fire. Oct 13 at 12:13
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That the pain I experience when I thrust my hand into a flame may serve a beneficial purpose--because it enables me to avoid an even greater injury in the future--hardly entails that I have a good reason to thrust my hand into the flame again and again. — Thomas Talbott (The Essential Role of Free Will in Universal Reconciliation)

Talbott is known for his propagation of Trinitarian Universalism. As many Universalists, he defends that sinning brings misery and unhappiness to their lives, and that is the reason they won't keep sinning and will avoid temptation. According to Universalism, this misery brought by sin can serve a redemptive purpose because it provides a compelling motive to repent.

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