02
Feb
16

CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM-CHAPTER FOURTEEN-Victorious Redemption (Part One)

 

There is perhaps no issue that impacts our evangelistic proclamation as deeply as that of the nature of Christ’s redeeming work. Those who believe in salvific synergism, i.e., that salvation results from a combination of God’s work and the sinner’s cooperation with him, have insisted that we cannot proclaim the gospel unless we are able to say to every sinner we meet, “Jesus died for you.” The issue I would like to consider in this chapter concerns the accuracy of that contention. I would assert that not only is that idea erroneous but that it is highly destructive to the biblical gospel.

 

The Issue

 

Before we proceed with a consideration of this doctrine, I would like to clarify the issue under discussion. I want to say at the outset that I do not regard a glib citing of a list of out of context proof-text a legitimate approach to resolving this issue. It is naïve and simplistic to suppose that such an intricate issue can be resolved by locating texts that use the words “all,” “world,” and “every man,” in relation to Christ’s death. Is there anyone who would argue that the apostle Paul actually met and preached the gospel to every person in the known world? I suspect not, yet I can offer a clear text that states unequivocally that he warned and taught every man. He wrote, “. . .which is Christ among you, the hope of glory whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 2:27-28). Would it be reasonable to accuse a person who suggested that the words “every man” in these verses does not refer to every individual on the face of the earth of failure to believe the Scriptures? I think not. Yet, those who believe Jesus is a redeemer who truly redeems are often accused of pursuing a philosophical system and failing to believe the Scriptures.

 

The concern of the New Testament writers was to show that Jesus’ redeeming work was universal in the true sense of that term. They used the word κόσμος (kosmos) translated “world” to refer to sinners from every nation as opposed to sinners from the nation of Israel alone. One of the clearer expressions of this idea occurs in the song of the redeemed in Revelation, chapter five, verse nine. John wrote, “. . .and they sang a new song saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain and redeemed to God by your blood, men from [ἐκ—out of] every kindred, tongue, people and nation.” This accurately describes what the writers often meant when they used the word κόσμος (kosmos). It is exegetically irresponsible  simply to assign an English dictionary definition to a biblical word, then plug it in every time we encounter that word. Those who insist that κόσμος must always mean every person without exception bear the burden of proof to establish that contention. Additionally, we need to understand that the word “all” is often used to denote all without distinction and not all without exception. If we are to make any progress in understanding this important issue, it will require more than a proof-text approach to the matter. Instead, we will need to engage in a careful, exegetical study of the pertinent theological passages that relate specifically to this issue.

 

Since it is beyond the scope of this somewhat cursory examination of the foundation for biblical evangelism to scrutinize this issue in great depth, I would refer you to the author’s short book, A Faulty Compass: An Examination of Arminian Presuppositions, available at Amazon Kindle Books. For a fuller treatment of this issue I would recommend Definite Atonement by Gary Long Th.D., From Heaven He Came and Sought Her by David and Jonathan Gibson, Christ, Our Penal Substitute by Robert L. Dabney, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray, and of course the classic The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen.

 

One of difficulties we face in dealing with this issue arises from a misunderstanding of the doctrine itself. This misunderstanding is due, at least in part, to faulty labeling. The Calvinistic doctrine has been referred to as “Limited Atonement” and this label has led to false suppositions. It has led to the assumption that Calvinists are concerned above all else to restrict the boundaries of divine beneficence. As I have tried to reflect in the title of this chapter, the true focus of the doctrine is that Jesus is a victorious redeemer who actually redeems his chosen people. In the days when the church actually sang theological hymns, we used to sing a song titled, “I will sing of my Redeemer” by Philip P. Bliss. The last line of the chorus reads like this— “On the cross, he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and set me free.” The issue is whether those words are true or not. If the salvific synergists [usually known as Semi-Pelagians or Arminians] are right, then those words are in error.  In their view, Jesus did not seal anyone’s pardon on the cross. Professor John Murray wrote the following insightful comment,

 

Whether the expression “limited atonement” is good or not we must reckon with the fact that unless be believe in the final restoration of all men we cannot have an unlimited atonement. If we universalize the extent, we limit the efficacy. If some of those for whom atonement was made and redemption wrought perish eternally, then the atonement itself is not efficacious. It is this alternative that the proponents of universal atonement must face. They have a “limited” atonement and limited in respect of that which impinges upon its essential character. We shall have none of it (Murray, 1955, 64).

 

If we insist on telling every sinner we meet that Jesus died to redeem him, something no first century preacher ever told his unbelieving hearers, we unwittingly cut the theological legs from under much of the apostolic argumentation in the New Testament Scriptures. I want to consider several of those apostolic arguments later in this chapter, but for now I want you to understand that in telling sinners something they do not need to hear, we rob believers of truth they do need to hear. Our hope rests on the redeeming work of Christ alone, not on his death and our faith.

 

Three Evangelical Views

 

There are three main evangelical views regarding the nature of Jesus’ death; the Arminian view, the Amyraldian view, and the Calvinistic view.  These three groups view the death of Christ in radically different ways. Which of these do you think can most accurately speak of “the saving work of Christ?”

 

The Arminian View

 

The first is the Arminian view that Jesus’ death was intended to save all sinners but actually saves no one but believers.

 

That, accordingly, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (The Remonstrance, Article 2).

 

The Amyraldian View

 

The second is the view of the “hypothetical universalists” also known as Amyraldians, that Jesus’ death was universal in its scope in terms of its design which was to give all sinners the potential of salvation. According to this view, Jesus died equally for all sinners, yet, his death did not, in itself, secure the salvation of anyone. Only the application of Christ’s redeeming work secures salvation for the elect.

 

Moїse Amyraut posited the idea of two separate divine decrees relative to the redemptive work of Christ. According to him, God first decreed to provide redemption for every sinner, on the condition that they believe; a condition he acknowledged no sinner in a state of nature would be able to fulfill. According to him, Christ’s work was not only sufficient for all but was intended for all. Yet, he did not posit this idea in the sense that it secured the salvation of any sinner in particular. In reality, according to his view, the work of Christ in itself did not objectively accomplish the salvation of any sinner.

The second divine decree concerned the application of redemption to the elect. He argued that, by this second decree, God intended to bring the elect absolutely to saving faith.

 

He wrote,

 

. . .for this was the most free Counsel and gracious Purpose both of God the Father, in giving his Son for the Salvation of Mankind, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, in suffering the Pains of Death, that the Efficacy thereof should particularly belong unto all the Elect, and to them only, to give them justifying Faith, and by it to bring them infallibly unto Salvation, and thus effectually to redeem all those and none other, who were from all Eternity from among all People, Nations and Tongues, chosen unto Salvation.

 

Such statements form the source of the popular formula, “Sufficient for all but efficient for the elect.” Such a statement is fine as far as it goes, but it falls short in that it fails to specify the source of this efficiency. Was the work of Christ efficient in itself, or did it only become efficient in its application? The work of Christ was sufficient for all because of the nature of the person who died, not because of a second and contradictory decree that designed that it would be offered equally for all but with no saving efficacy in itself. According to hypothetical universalism, the death of Christ did not, in itself, secure salvation for anyone. It is because of this contradiction that the arguments that are usually leveled at the particular redemption position, if granted, would also be effective in arguing against the divine decree. It is my view that the true difficulty in understanding and accepting “limited atonement” is not so much with the concept of a limitation in Christ’s redeeming work as it is with the decree that determined that not all would be the objects of saving grace. Unless we accept a Universalist position, we must acknowledge that the effectiveness of Christ’s redeeming work is limited to believers.

 

The view that Jesus’ death was particularly designed for the elect in its application alone and not in its design faces a logical problem. One would assume that those who hold this view believe God has decreed all that actually occurs. If it happens in time, it must have been planned in eternity. If God the Father has limited Christ’s redeeming work in its application to the elect only so that only they actually come to saving faith, that limited application must have been decreed before time began. That is, if God designed Christ’s work to be applied only to the elect, he must have intended it to redeem only the elect. Its design cannot be both limited and unlimited at the same time unless one is content with the idea that God is self-contradictory. In reality, the entire idea of “sufficiency for all” seems irrelevant since Christ’s work only needs to be “sufficient” for those to whom God applies it in effectual calling.

 

Amyraut’s intent seems to have been to insure that no one could accuse God of injustice because he did not provide a remedy for his sins. The argument would run like this–If Jesus did not die for a person with the intention of saving him on the condition that he believe the gospel, he could plead in judgment that he was condemned not through his own fault, but for the lack of a remedy. In truth, if no remedy existed for anyone, all would be justly condemned and without a legal defense before God. It is not the existence of a remedy and one’s refusal of it that is the cause of guilt and condemnation. Sinners stand condemned as the result of sin. As we shall see, arguments such as those posited by hypothetical universalists are unnecessary since Calvinists generally agree that the work of Christ is abundantly sufficient to save every sinner if they should believe the gospel and that his death guarantees the salvation of the guiltiest sinner who will believe. Additionally, The Canons of Dort clearly state that sinners perish by their own fault and not through any deficiency in the work of Christ.

 

It is important to remember that the gospel call does not require sinners to believe Jesus died with the intention of saving them in particular. No biblical evangelist ever said to a sinner or to a group of sinners indiscriminately, “Jesus died for you.”  The promise of the gospel is that if you believe it, you will be saved. To this, there is no exception.

 

The Calvinistic View

The third view is the Calvinistic view that Jesus’ redeeming work is unlimited in its value, but particular in its design. It was designed actually to accomplish the salvation of God’s elect. In all these views there is a limitation. The first two view the work of Christ as limited in its effectiveness; it did not actually and objectively accomplish the salvation of anyone in particular. In regard to the second view, there was no objective accomplishment of propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, or justification. If we were to take either of the first two views, we could not speak of “the saving work of Christ,” since His sacrifice was offered equally for all. If it, in itself, did not accomplish the salvation of all for whom He died, it did not, in itself, accomplish the salvation of any for whom He died.

As we have seen, there is no debate over the sufficiency of Jesus’ redeeming work. Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge its sufficiency. His death was more than sufficient to redeem every sinner who has lived, is living, or shall ever live. It possesses such value because of the dignity of the one who was crucified. If he chose to save every sinner who ever existed, He would need to do no more than He has done. A.A. Hodge wrote,

 

Christ’s righteousness, therefore, consists of his obedience and death. That righteousness is precisely what the law demands of every sinner in order to justification before God. It is, therefore, in its nature adapted to all sinners who were under that law. Its nature is not altered by the fact that it was wrought out for a portion only of such sinners, or that it is secured to them by the covenant between the Father and the Son. What is necessary for the salvation of one man is necessary or the salvation of another and of all. It is also of infinite value, being the righteousness of the eternal Son of God, and therefore sufficient for all (Hodge, 1972 420).

 

The Canons of Dort make it clear that the issue in this doctrinal dispute has nothing to do with a limitation in the value and sufficiency of Jesus’ redemptive work. If all repented and believed, all would be saved. Additionally, it is clear that there is to be no limitation in the freeness of the gospel offer. The issue is whether God designed Christ’s redeeming work to make it possible for all to be saved without accomplishing the salvation of anyone in particular or to accomplish the salvation of all who would believe, i.e. those the Father had given the Son in the decree of election. I want to quote a rather large portion of the Canons so that you will be able to see these statements for yourself.

 

Canons of Dort–Second Head of Doctrine, “The Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men Thereby.”

 

Article 3. The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

 

Article 4. This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

 

Article 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to all whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

 

Article 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect of insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

 

Article 7.  But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

 

Can you imagine a stronger affirmation of the abundant sufficiency of Christ’s redeeming work? Surely, the most committed Arminian could never have stated the truth about the sufficiency of Christ’s death more forcefully.

The real issue we need to address is whether God intended Jesus’ death merely to provide the possibility of salvation for all sinners or infallibly to secure salvation for every sinner the Father gave to the Son before he created the world. The answer of the of the Canons is this— “According to the sovereign counsel of God, the saving efficacy of the atoning death of Christ extends to all the elect [and to them only], so as to bring them infallibly to salvation” (Emphasis Mine).

 

The Design of Jesus’ Redemptive Work

 

Since there is little disagreement among evangelical Christians concerning the value of Jesus’ redeeming work or the freeness of the gospel offer, we need to focus on what the Bible teaches about the Father’s intention in sending his Son and the Son’s intention in coming. Was it God’s intention in sending his Son merely to make salvation possible for everyone but with the possibility that everyone might be damned despite his best efforts? Did Jesus give himself as a sacrifice merely to make sinners savable or did he die to secure the salvation of those the Father hand given him to redeem?

 

Potential or Actual?

The first issue concerns whether Scripture speaks Jesus’ death as potential or as actual. Did Jesus die merely to make it possible for us to be saved or did He die to secure the salvation of his elect people by His redemptive work?

The following are just a few of the many verses that speak about Jesus’ redemptive work on behalf of His people. Notice that these verses all represent His sacrificial death as an actual work of reconciliation, redemption, propitiation etc.

“You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

“. . .to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:20-21).

“When he had made purification of sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all [for all time], having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

Notice all these verses indicate it was His work on the cross, not the application of that work, that accomplished the salvation of His people. For example, the reconciliation about which Paul writes in Romans 5:10 is objective, not subjective in nature. That is, it occurred outside our experience, “when we were still enemies.”

Additionally, notice the words “potential” and “possible” are not even implied in any of these verses relative to the work of Christ. His work is represented as an actual accomplishment, not a tenuous provision.

 

This is the Will of Him Who Sent Me

 

Since, as we have seen, the issue is the design of Christ redeeming work, it would seem to make sense to examine passages of Scripture that state the purpose of the Father in sending his Son and the unity of the Trinity in pursuing that design. There is no paucity of biblical passages that actually address this issue. Jesus addressed it quite unequivocally when he said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:38-39). I want to revisit this passage when I discuss “prevenient grace” vs. effectual calling/drawing, but for now I would like to make a few observations about these two verses:

 

  1. There is an indissoluble unity of purpose among the persons of the Trinity in the plan, accomplishment and application of redemption. Jesus here stated that he had not come down from heaven to pursue a purpose that was different from or contrary to his Father’s will. He had pursued that line of argument extensively in chapter five of this Gospel.
  2. As he did in verse thirty-seven of this chapter, he here employs a negative statement to emphasize a positive truth. When he said, “. . .he who comes to me, I will never by any means cast out” (v. 37), he intended his hearers to understand that he would by all means save and keep all who came to him in genuine faith. In stating that it was the Father’s will that he should not lose one individual of all that he had given him, he intended to emphasize the point that it was the Father’s will that he should certainly secure the salvation of all those he had given him.
  3. It was the work of the Son to secure the salvation of all those the Father had given him in the eternal decree. It was not the work of the Son to make salvation a possibility for all, so that the Father and the Spirit or alternately the sinner’s libertarian free will might make salvation effectual in the application phase of redemption. He said, “. . .that of all those he has given me, I should lose nothing [or I should certainly save and keep].” In John ten, verse sixteen he stated that he had other sheep that were not of the fold of Israel. It should be clear to any unbiased reader that these sheep were not yet believers since he said “them also I must bring, and they shall [future tense] hear my voice. . .” Please notice that he does not say “I must make it possible for them to be brought” but “I must bring them.” It was his work to secure their salvation. Additionally, Jesus prayed in his intercessory prayer, “. . .since you have given him authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all you have given him” (John 17:2). It was the work of the Son to secure eternal life for those given to him in the eternal decree, not to provide a possibility of salvation.
  4. The phrase, “raise it up again at the last day” points up the unity of the Trinity in the accomplishment of redemption. In verse thirty-nine, Jesus used it to refer to both those the Father had given him and to those he would certainly save and keep. He describes these people in verse forty as those who “see the Son and believe on him” and declares that he will raise them up on the last day. In verse forty-four he not only affirms the sinner’s inability to respond positively to the gospel apart from the Father’s drawing, but uses this phrase again to show that all those who are thus drawn by the Father will be those who “see the Son and believe on him.”

 

In his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen, Jesus clearly stated the purpose of the mission his Father had given him. He prayed, “. . . Father the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh [humanity], to give eternal life to all whom you have given him”(vv. 1-2). The phrase beginning, “to give eternal life” is a purpose clause beginning with the word, hina, (in order that).  The Father’s purpose in giving Jesus all authority is clear. That purpose was to give eternal life to all those the Father had given him.  His purpose was not to make it possible for all to be saved if they chose to believe on him, but to give eternal life to God’s chosen people.

 

Even John 3:16, a verse touted by synergists to prove the universal but ineffectual good wishes of God for no one in particular, states the particularistic purpose of the Father in giving the Son.  It was in order that “the ones who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone but to make it certain for all who would believe.

 

Exegetical Evidence

 

Since I have stated my view that ripping texts from their context and using them as proof-texts is illegitimate, it seems incumbent on me to show how this doctrine is set forth contextually in the New Testament Scriptures. I intend to do that by considering the argument of the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans and related passages. It is in such contexts that we begin to understand how essential this doctrine is to our understanding of God’s good news.

 

I have stated more than once in this book that the assertion “Jesus died for you” was never part of the message that first century preachers proclaimed indiscriminately to sinners. A careful examination of the biblical record will demonstrate that to be true. Still, someone is bound to object that Paul included the phrase “. . .how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. . .” in his description of the gospel he preached (see 1 Cor. 15:1-4). In light of this, how can we contend that this was not a part of the good news he had preached to them? The answer is that we do not deny that Paul proclaimed Jesus’ death for sinners as part of the good news he preached. What we contend is that the timing of that proclamation was entirely different from its proclamation in modern preaching. In modern “evangelism” the preacher/witness often begins where he should end. As we shall learn from our examination of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and related passages, his declaration that Christ died for us or for our sins is a message he reserved for those who had been justified through trusting God’s gracious promise to pardon every rebel who bowed before the throne of the exalted Christ. He proclaimed that message to explain how God could, in righteousness, declare guilty rebels to be righteous in his holy sight. Additionally, “Christ died for us” formed the foundation of the believer’s assurance of glorification. The apostle did not argue that believers are certain to be glorified because we have believed Christ died for us, but because Christ has objectively secured our salvation by his redemptive work.

 

Though it is far beyond the scope of this brief consideration of Christ’s redemptive work to provide a detailed exposition of every pertinent passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and related passages,  in part two of this chapter, I would like us to consider the following elements of Paul’s argument and how they relate to that doctrine:

 

  1. God intended Jesus’ work of propitiation not merely to form the righteous basis for the justification of sinners but also to vindicate himself in the justification of sinners (Rom. 3: 24-26).
  2. Christ’s death objectively accomplished our reconciliation with God while we were still enemies. He will not cast us off now that we have become his friends having “received the reconciliation” through faith (Rom. 5:1-11).
  3. Jesus’ obedience as the head and representative of all in him, secured their justification just as Adam’s representative act of disobedience had guaranteed the condemnation of all in him. Adam did not represent those in him because they had chosen him as their representative. He was their head by divine decree and appointment. In the same way, Jesus became the representative of believers not because we chose him to represent us, but because the Father appointed him as our representative head (Rom.5:12-19).
  4. Everyone for whom Jesus died also died with him to the reigning power of sin (Rom. 6:1-10).
  5. If God has given us the greatest gift possible [he did not spare his own Son for us all], he will also grant us every other spiritual gift that belongs to our salvation including glorification (Rom. 8:31-32).
  6. Paul linked Jesus’ death with his intercessory work and argued that he who died for us and intercedes for us will certainly not condemn us (Rom. 8:34).

As I expand on these elements of Paul’s argument in the second part of this chapter, I think it will become clear that the synergist’s insistence that Jesus died equally and in the same way for every sinner without exception, cuts the theological legs from under that argument and must, for that reason, be rejected.

 

Hodge, A.A., Outlines of Theology, (London:The Banner of Truth Trust), 1972

Visit my Author’s Page–www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

 

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2 Responses to “CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM-CHAPTER FOURTEEN-Victorious Redemption (Part One)”


  1. February 2, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Excellent, my brother. I like your approach to this issue, showing how general atonement views deny the efficacy of Christ’s death. And I love your second point, at the bottom. That contrast shines bright the love of God for His elect.

    Blessings in Christ – an effective sacrifice.


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