Ambassador of Reconciliation
10/21/15 at 04:12 PM 3 Comments

Conversation about the Atonement: Is It Limited or Unlimited? Part 4

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Joe Lindberg and I are continuing our discussion about the extent of the atonement, which started with Parts 1, 2, and 3. Here he responds to an article I wrote, and then I will follow with some thoughts.

In response to Diane’s article. “Jesus Loves Me! This I Know”, it seems like we are going to finally get into some of theology that will really help us understand what the scripture says. We will hopefully be able to answer the question, “does God love everyone”, and be able to answer some questions on the topic of atonement. Once we understand God’s love, we can understand the grace He has given us through Christ Jesus.

I agree with Diane that we must ask, who is the “world”, who are “you”, and who are “us”? Each one of the verses that she posted has a huge impact on how we understand scripture. Let’s jump into some of these verses that Diane mentioned really quick and see what we find.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

This verse compliments a lot of other scriptures. If we are honest with the text we know that those who believe are the ones that are granted belief Phil 1:29. We know that these people were chosen in Christ for salvation Eph 1:1-4, 2 Thess 2:13-14. When we look at the Greek the word “whoever” isn’t there, although it doesn’t do anything harmful to the text. The only issue that it raises is that it causes people to presuppose that it is up to a person’s “free will” to believe in Him. We also can conclude that those who believe are the ones granted John 6:65 and those drawn John 6:44.

So who is the “world”? Is it the world of believers chosen in Christ before time began Eph 1:1-4? Or is it the unbelieving world that will never trust in Christ included in God’s promises? Col 2:14 makes it clear that Jesus died and cancelled the sin debt of either some or all people that have ever lived. If we presuppose that it means all the people that have ever lived, why is it that some people still receive punishment whether eternal or not Matt 25:46? How can you pay for a debt that was already cancelled?

This debt was pinned to the cross. Even in unbelief, which is a sin, a person’s debt is cancelled. It can’t be dependent on belief, mans will, or man’s work Rom 9:16.

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jer. 31:3).

Who has God drawn here? We know that John 6:44 says that God draws us, but in John 6:65 it says it must be granted to us to come to Him. In John 12:32 we see that Jesus says (in Greek), “and I, if I am lifted up from the earth, all will draw to myself”. This doesn’t really answer the question for us though. Although we can pull from just these few verses that God grants that we come to Him, and it is Him that does the drawing. John 12:32 leaves us wondering who the “all” are. It does raise a few questions though.

If John 12:32 means all people that ever lived, how can they all be drawn and come to salvation if not everyone who has ever lived has heard the gospel? No one can believe unless they hear the Word of God Rom 10:17.

Are we presupposing automatically that “all” means every person ever? Or can we think that in context he is actually talking to the believers, saying that He will draw all the people to Him whom He has chosen to be saved? If we compare this to other scriptures as Acts 13:48, Phil 1:29, Eph 1:1-4 we can conclude that the people hearing such teachings (John 12:32) already knew the basic theology of scripture and understood what he meant by “all”. My short conclusion is “all” means, “all the chosen people of God, predestined from eternity”.

If here that it means He has drawn everyone who has ever lived, why is it that there are a lot of people that rejected Christ? I mean, who can resist the Will of God? Rom 9:19. If it is His desire to save all, than He will save all 1 Tim 2:4. His will is that we believe on Jesus John 6:28-29, and we can only believe if it is granted Phil 1:29. This is why the Father gave some to the Son for salvation John 6:38-39, and He won’t lose any.

I would like to take the time to mention real quick that 1 Tim 2:4-6 in context also mentions Jesus as mediator between us and God. Jesus is only mediator for believers, not unbelievers. So when He desires all men to be saved, “all” must be talking about the elect. This is just more consistent with scripture.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

This should be obvious by now that God demonstrated His love for us, that Christ died for the ones He chose to save. He died for us undeserving sinners and loved us anyways. When you realize that God has to do all the regenerating work in a person Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 2:25, Jude 1:24, 1 Pet 1:3, we realize that we are in no position to argue with God what is right or wrong. God’s ways aren’t ours.

When looking at Rom 5:8, don’t forget to realize that Romans was written to the church, not unbelievers. Rom 1:7 makes it clear that this was written to the saints in Rome, and was later passed to us to teach us of the truths of scripture.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37-39).

This verse is talking to people who are already saved. It is just an assurance that we are all secure in Christ. I honestly believe myself that it was written to help remind us of our security in a salvation that won’t be taken away. I hate the tag name, “once saved always saved”, but it is the Lord’s work that gives us the free gift of salvation, not by our feeble efforts to keep or gain it on our own. If it were up to us we wouldn’t have ever have obtained salvation in the first place, much less kept it.

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (Eph. 2:4-5).

This verse also describes the work of God. He made us – (believers), alive with Christ. Unbelievers have no part of being alive with Christ. Only those who have His perfect atonement applied to them are alive in Christ.

To conclude, we can see that God doesn’t draw everyone Matt 25:46. Either way you look at this verse we have a dilemma. We see that some are punished, therefore Jesus either paid for their debts and they are still punished, or He didn’t pay for their debts and they are punished. It wouldn’t make sense to think that a debt was paid for and you still have the consequences. For example, if I went to the bank and paid off your overdraft, you no longer have a debt. There are no more late fees (punishment) because it is paid for. If you went to the bank the same day and tried to pay off your debt, neither you nor the banker can hold you accountable for the debt. You are free and clear.

This works well with the rest of scripture, because God cancelled your debt, and then draws you to believe. Those that Christ was given won’t run away, in fact they will run to Him.

John 6:37 - All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never turn away.

1 John 3:16 - By this we have known love, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

In just this brief article I conclude that Jesus chose His bride. This happened in eternity’s past. God will effectually call those whom He chose, and He will grant us a belief that we could never deny Him. We had our debts cancelled, and we will believe because of God’s work in us. It will happen in this life, not the next, because it will be impossible to Heb 9:27. God will allow the rest of humanity to go their natural way of destruction because of their rebellion against Him.

If anyone has issues with God only bringing some to salvation, remember where we all are supposed to be because of the sin that we inherited in Adam. Thank God for Jesus Christ, our atonement, our Savior, our God!!

____________________

Derek Day has joined the conversation and added these observations:

Derek Day

I will say Amen to the last paragraph, God has made all things and all people for His purposes and for His Glory; the path of wisdom is not in the direction of questioning his motives, wisdom or power. Praise to Jesus who has not lost one of those entrusted to Him!

Now for two arguments here that I do not find to be valid: the consequences of being forgiven a debt, and defining the word all based on consistency with scripture while reading all of scripture with one particular presupposition. If I might suggest an analogy to light: for years physicists argued about whether light is a wave or a particle, we now believe that it is both, and I am sure that the reality is even more fantastic. What matters with light is how it acts under given conditions. My argument, or perhaps my warning, is that many matters of faith and theology may depend on the result that the issues have in our lives and our witness; this is not to say that there is no absolute Truth, but that perhaps our language is too limited to describe it fully.

In regards to why consequences still happen to people that God Loves. There are innumerable examples of those who pay debts and suffer consequences because they believe they should, are too afraid to accept forgiveness, are too hurt by what they have been through, or who accept suffering in order to be a witness (and that is just barely scratching the surface). If we presuppose that suffering only comes when one deserves it, then we deny reality (words fail...). We fight not against flesh and blood, we are [instead] to proclaim liberty to the captives.
Verdict: “Who would pay a debt they do not owe?” is not a valid argument here.

To say that all does not mean “all” likewise presupposes a limited atonement. When I began to realize this, I made every effort to suspend what I thought I knew and read through the Bible a few times straight through considering scripture with an alternate set of presuppositions. What I’m convinced of is that God is greater than I can possibly imagine, his Love is more awesome than I can fathom, and my understanding is foolishness in the face of His intellect.
Verdict: I can’t tell people that we bring good news and simultaneously tell them that their ancestors are perishing (or have perished) in a lake of fire. I am just not that wise or omnipotent to be able to know or say that; all that I can say with assurance is that to those who believe in Christ Jesus he gave the right to be called children of God! Even if eternal torment or annihilation were correct, we cannot know when or how Jesus Christ may have revealed himself to them.

I am grateful for this discussion, which encouraged me to read and reread scripture at a point when devotions had become a chore to me, and I hope that my words here will help encourage others to read God’s Word with open minds and hearts as well. It is difficult when addressing another’s presuppositions to avoid making contrary presuppositions of one’s own! I pray that my pride has not prevented me from encouraging the readers of these words this day. Let us keep on encouraging one another daily to finish this race that we have begun!

____________________

Diane

First, I’d like to acknowledge where Joe and I are in agreement. We agree that

Salvation does not depend on our choosing God but on God choosing us.
No one can come to Jesus unless the Father enables and draws him.
Belief in Jesus does not come from within a person but is granted by God.
Jesus will not lose any of those He died for and has determined to save.

In other words, we both agree that the Arminian concept of “free will” is not biblical. I think John 1:12-13 captures the interplay between human responsibility and God’s sovereign will:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

We are to receive Jesus and believe in His name, but in the final analysis, as the end of verse 13 makes very clear, becoming children of God is not by the will of man but by the will of God.

Joe goes on to zero in on one of the key questions in this debate: to whom do the statements about God’s love and redemption apply? He asks,

So who is the “world” [in John 3:16]? Is it the world of believers chosen in Christ before time began Eph 1:1-4? Or is it the unbelieving world that will never trust in Christ included in God’s promises?

He suggests that there are two possible answers: either “the world of believers chosen in Christ before time began” or “the unbelieving world that will never trust in Christ.” He is assuming that “the unbelieving world” will never trust in Christ. I would say that we were all unbelieving at one time and God loved us when we were unbelieving. As Paul says, “Christ died for the ungodly”(Rom. 5:6). “God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10). So when John says that God loved the world, I think he is agreeing with Paul that God loved sinners, and that includes all of us. Paul emphasizes that Christ died for the ungodly, the sinners, the enemies of God; who among the descendants of Adam is not included in that category? A future installment of this conversation will take a closer look at Romans 5 and what it says about who is loved and who is justified and who is reconciled.

Another point that Joe makes is that

Jesus died and cancelled the sin debt of either some or all people that have ever lived. If we presuppose that it means all the people that have ever lived, why is it that some people still receive punishment whether eternal or not Matt 25:46? How can you pay for a debt that was already cancelled?

Here he correctly asserts that you can’t pay for a debt that was already cancelled. But he makes the faulty assumption that in the after-life, people will be paying for their own sins. I believe that Jesus already paid the price for our sins. As the weekly Prayer of Consecration in our church says, “He offered himself and made, once for all time, a perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.” As Hebrews puts it, “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26). The fully sufficient sacrifice for sin has been made, the debt has been paid, the redemption has been accomplished. In my opinion, the judgment that occurs after death is not for the purpose of exacting from sinners the price for their sin (Jesus has already paid that price) but rather to let them feel the full weight of their offense against a holy God so that they might come to the point of bowing the knee before Him in true repentance and loving trust.

Then Joe looks at John 12:32, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Again the question arises of who the verse is talking about. Who are the “all men” or “all people” who are referenced here? Joe suggests that “in context he is actually talking to the believers, saying that He will draw all the people to Him who He has chosen to be saved…. My short conclusion is ‘all’ means ‘all the chosen people of God, predestined from eternity.’” It seems to me that Joe is squeezing and constraining the verse to fit his belief that only some will be saved. And his reasoning is rather circular: “He will draw all the people to Him who He has chosen to be saved.” In other words, “God will do everything He intended to do, and if He doesn’t do something, it’s because He didn’t intend to do it.” I suppose you can maintain God’s sovereignty that way—yes, whatever He purposes to do, He certainly will do—but in my opinion it does terrible violence to His loving character. If He brings people in the world (through no choice of their own) with absolutely no intention of ever giving them the slightest hope of being freed from everlasting torment, then we have no reasonable defense for the goodness of God.

Next Joe looks at 1 Timothy 2:4-6. Here is how the passage reads in the ESV:

[God our Savior] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all....

Joe contends that “Jesus is only mediator for believers, not unbelievers. So when He desires all men to be saved, ‘all’ must be talking about the elect.” Again, he constricts the passage to make it fit his theology, rather than seeing the fullness that it is trying to convey. Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and sinful men; He offers Himself as the mediator for unbelievers that they might become believers! When it says that Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all, that’s exactly what it means!

Obviously, not all come to Christ in this life. Joe sees that fact as proof that they will never come to Christ, and as evidence he cites Hebrews 9:27 (“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”). He says that belief “will happen in this life, not the next, because it will be impossible to Heb 9:27.” The question of whether one can turn to Christ in the next life is another can of worms, but let me just make one observation here. Many people think Hebrews 9:27 means that the moment an unbeliever dies, he is locked in to going to everlasting punishment, from which there is no escape. But the verse says nothing of the sort! It simply says that after you die, you face judgment. I completely agree that there will be judgment after death (for believers and unbelievers alike!) but it will not be endless and purposeless.

Finally, Joe made a statement to which I can heartily agree: “If it is His desire to save all, then He will save all 1 Tim 2:4.” Yes, because He is sovereign, He will accomplish all His holy will. And if it is His holy will to save all, then most certainly all will be saved!

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