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Salvation PtyLtd

Jesus died for the company of the elect – and only them.

-Bill Medley-

Did Jesus die for all, or only the elect? The debate often comes down to an impasse because words like “all”, “many” and “world” can have different meanings depending on context and interpretation.

There are good “proof texts” on both sides used to play theological pingpong. 2 Peter 2:1 says that false teachers “deny the owner who bought them” and this surely “proves” that some were bought at the cross but did not believe. The backhand return is that this text is quoting Deuteronomy 32:6, speaking of God who “bought” as Creator/owner rather than as redeemer. And then there is 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” But does “world” mean everyone, or people from every nation of the world?

As John Calvin asks, does this mean Jesus died for the sins of Satan who is of this world? “World” can mean Gentiles, evil, or nations in general. Which qualification do we mean? We need more proof texts!

Jesus died as a ransom for “many” (Matt. 20:28), but could “many” mean “all”? Look at Revelation 5:9 “…with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Surely this nails it. Purchased! Not every nation, but people from every nation. The whole world is represented so Jesus is the Saviour of the whole world.

If Jesus died for the sins of all, then all have a legal right to heaven despite their unbelief because that is also a sin for which Jesus died.

So my proof texts are better than yours, therefore we should all be good fivepoint Calvinists. But somehow not all are convinced (or is that “many”?). They have proof texts to volley back and their big ace serve is, “What about evangelism? If you believe Jesus only died for the elect, you stifle the free offer of the gospel.” Don Carson points out that you couldn’t preach God loves you because you don’t know whether the person is elect. The solution offered by many is that Jesus died for all, but the Holy Spirit only effectively applies the atonement to the elect. But unless you go fully Arminian, this merely shifts the problem from the cross to the Holy Spirit. Under this account, the Holy Spirit limits the atonement and applies the saving love of God only to those He intended.

Notice how we have sneakily got away from trying to determine first what the Bible says. We are now letting “consequences for evangelism” drive our interpretation. What we need is a big picture (meta-narrative) from Scripture, that explains and interprets all those proof texts.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek that turns out to be a comprehensive list of all those things we have “in Christ”:

Chosen
Predestined
Adopted
Redemption through His blood
Forgiveness of sins
Knowing the mystery of the future hope.
Planned for the praise of His Glory.
Holy Spirit, guaranteeing inheritance.

It’s the package of salvation. Clearly, God has a complete saving plan from beginning to end of what we have in Christ. It includes the cross! Did you see it in there? Right in the middle of that package …

1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood…”

You can’t yank the cross (redemption through His blood) out of this list of things we have ‘in Christ’. To put it another way, which of these things on the Ephesians list could we apply to those who would never believe? Are those who will never believe “‘chosen”? “Adopted”? Do they have the Holy Spirit? The obvious answer is ‘No!’ These are all part of the salvation package. The cross is one part of that package. Carson and others have tried to make a distinction between the cross being effective for some and not for others, but where does the Bible make that distinction? The cross is one of the spiritual blessings for those who will be “in Christ”. This is the meta-narrative that should drive our interpretation of the proof texts with words like “all” and “world”. This salvation package is summarised in the golden chain of Romans 8:30. Those He predestined He also justified (at the cross and resurrection), but the Ephesians text is more specific. “Redemption through His blood”.

Jesus didn’t do some kind of generic payment for everyone as in “let’s make it possible for all to be saved, and then it’s dependent on us and our faith”. Believer, your name is written in blood on that cross. It was a plan!

John Owen argues that if Jesus died for the sins of all, then all have a legal right to heaven despite their unbelief because that is also a sin for which Jesus died. I think Owen is too easily dismissed. A just God cannot punish twice for the same crime. Jesus paid! Even if you made the sin of unbelief an exception and Jesus died for all other sins, it brings into question the justice of hell where people are receiving individual judgment for sin already punished. The whole point of the cross is its great work of justice. The debt is paid in full.

When God gave me my wife, I remember feeling the personal love God had for me. God has done many things specific and personal for me as an individual. And yet we overlook the personal nature of the cross. “He took our sins in His body…” (1 Peter 2:24). He personally took the punishment that equates with eternal hell for my particular sins. Without limited atonement that is not true. If Jesus died for all then He didn’t personally take your sin or anyone’s. He just died a generic death to make salvation possible. In fact, the cross didn’t ultimately save you at all because that is not what separates you from those who never believe. Here is where this debate goes from theological ping-pong to a serious pastoral issue. I have pastored committed Christians who have had lifelong struggles with assurance. If Jesus died for all, including those who will never believe, then the only thing that separates you from the unbeliever is your faith. Where do you look to for assurance? Your faith, or the cross? Look at this package in Ephesians. The assurance is given. Salvation is about God’s work!

Jesus didn’t do some kind of generic payment for everyone as in “let’s make it possible for all to be saved, and then it’s dependent on us and our faith”. Believer, your name is written in blood on that cross. It was a plan!

Is your faith in your faith? What is your plea on the Day of Judgment? I hope it’s not “I’ve lived a good life”. I hope it’s not even, “I believed”. Even the demons believe and tremble! I hope your plea and cry is the one thing the unbeliever can never say – Jesus died for me, even me! He took away everything that could rightfully keep me out of heaven. What ultimately made me right with God is the cross! Our faith is in an effective work. The cross is real! He really died for me.

This is the great hope we have for our unbelieving family and friends. All that talk about family members being too hardened is just Arminian theology. Our God is determined to save! He has done the work. He is not leaving it up to those who are most “open”.

This is exciting. Who has God planned to save? We don’t know, but He chooses to save those who are prayed for and evangelised! Wow. Let’s get praying and evangelising our friends and loved ones! God has planned and uses families to grow His family. If you bury your talent, then expect nothing. If you go, remember that He’s already prepared a harvest from every tribe, tongue and nation.

And how do you know if you are chosen yourself? Repent and believe in the cross and it’s yours. The same God who predestined is the same one who says “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Bill Medley is the Presbyterian minister in Frankston, Victoria

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