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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Redemptive Intent 

Well, if you've made it this far, I applaud you. If you are just joining us, you probably want to go back and check out at least the first two main posts in this series: Human Inability and Divine Intervention. You might also enjoy the Top Ten Ways We Lack Free Will (as a corollary to Human Inability). If you find yourself utterly bored with the whole thing, then I would encourage you to give Top Ten Runners up for the Unpardonable Sin a whirl.

So today we move beyond the stark contrast between the reality of Human Inability and the need for Divine Intervention. Perhaps for many the stickiest point in the acronym is smack in the middle - (L)imited Atonement. What?!? You dare say that the cleansing power of Jesus' death on the cross is finite? I think you can see what raises people's ire. This is why I choose to focus on the third doctrinal pillar of "Redemptive Intent".

The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is "for what and for whom did Christ die?" I think you can agree that there are a finite number of possible answers to that question. I submit:

  1. Christ died for none of the sins of anyone.
  2. Christ died for some of the sins of some people.
  3. Christ died for all of the sins of some people.
  4. Christ died for some of the sins of all people.
  5. Christ died for all of the sins of all people.

First, please allow me to flat out reject propositions #1 and #2. The first makes him out to be a common thug who was justifiably executed. The second makes him out to be a human scapegoat with no power to truly save. Those who would believe either of these two are deluded and are probably not reading my blog anyway.

Next, let's look at #5. This is universalism. People who believe this view ignore the passages that clearly teach that some will be lost and condemned to an eternity of separation from God and torment in Hell. While it's a nice warm fuzzy thought, and certainly emphasizes God's mercy and lovingkindness, it doesn't match up with his justice and wrath. Because it is biblically indefensible, I reject it.

Now, all the good little Arminians who are reading this are likely shouting mild obscenities and furiously spouting off their list of verses that they think imply that Jesus died to make salvation possible for all people. I think this is a radical corruption of the nature of atonement. What you suggest is that the death of Christ did not actually accomplish salvation for anybody; it only made them savable. Did he, or did he not, actually provide propitiation (the quenching of God's wrath)? Did he, or did he not, actually purchase redemption (paying the ransom for our freedom)?

If all he did was create a possibility for people to come and find mercy, we destroy the premise of Human Inability and Divine Intervention, and assume they could accomplish their own regeneration, muster up their own faith, and repent on their own to reap the benefits of the cross.

What about #4? I think this is what Arminians truly believe. This is the notion that he died for all of the sins except the sin of unbelief. And this I think is an atonement that is limited.

"The Arminians say, 'Christ died for all men.' Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, 'No, certainly not.' We ask them the next question: Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer 'No.' They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, 'No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if ?' and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ's death; we say, 'No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.' We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it."

- C.H. Spurgeon

And so we seem left with only #3 as a reasonable choice. It brings us back to our original question: What was the Redemptive Intent? Did Christ intend to pay the penalty for all the sins of everyone, but somehow failed? Or did he come with a specific purpose in mind and completely accomplish his purpose on the cross? Consider the following:

Matthew 26:28 "...for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Hebrews 9:28 " Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
If he meant all, why didn't he say all?

John 10:14-15 "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep." Who are the sheep? Are they the whole world - everyone who might come to him?

John 17:6,9,19 "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. ... I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. ... And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." Who is Jesus praying for?

Acts 20:28 "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." He bought the church, not the potential of a church that might be.

Romans 8:31-32 "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" What happens to this argument when you believe that God gave up his own Son for someone who, in the end he opposes? Does he receive "all things"? Or does he actually lose everything?

Ephesians 5:25-27 "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Do you see who the intended beneficiary of Christ's atoning death is? Do you see the intended effect?

Titus 2:14 "...who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."

OK, so here is my point: Christ's death on the cross was not intended merely to give all men the possibility of saving themselves, but was intended to pay for all the sins (including unbelief) of the ones he had chosen (the elect) so that God's wrath could be satisfied and he could then draw them to himself. Are you with me so far?

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Excellent post.

I would just add one point to it, but you did touch on it during the last segment. But I think it bears repeating here, or possibly moved to this section if you are vociferously opposed to repeating things.

That point is expressed in:
Ephesians 1:3-6 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved."

This verse answers the questions you pose:
Did Christ intend to pay the penalty for all the sins of everyone, but somehow failed? Or did he come with a specific purpose in mind and completely accomplish his purpose on the cross?

I know a lot of people do not like the word predestined, but there it is, just jumping out of the pages of His Word. I think the elect (a term you used, Russ) should be called 'the elect'. The elect were chosen/predestined. And we are given a time-frame as to when that happened. It happened before the foundation of the world.

So to answer the questions you pose, Russ:

Did Christ intend to pay the penalty for all the sins of everyone, but somehow failed? Or did he come with a specific purpose in mind and completely accomplish his purpose on the cross?
- The plan failed? Not at all. God's Word tells us that the elect were chosen before the foundation of the world. To say that that plan somehow had to be altered about two thousand years ago would be to discard a portion of scripture as false or unreliable. If someone were willing to do that, then I would probably have trouble explaining II Tim 3 to them, I suppose:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra--which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
(*Emphasis added.)

And, interestingly enough, Paul indicates in verse 15 that his audience should have already been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Those sacred writings are what we now reffer to as the Old Testament. That, in and of itself, should be an indication that there was not some change of plan either during or after the life of Christ.

Christ's purpose was wholly and completely accomplished on the cross. That purpose was set, as we are told, before the foundation of the world.

Just my two-cents.

- Ted Neeves


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