How great is God’s love? Even as I write this, I’m drawn to a particular hymn and the precious words thereof:
“To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.”
What is the price of admission to eternity? Who paid it? As our look at the contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism continues this week, we will specifically consider who he paid it for…
This week, we will be looking at the “L” in that most dangerous of flowers, TULIP. For whom did Christ die? That’s our mission here, to what end we will be digging.
By this point, it should be absolutely no surprise that there is a serious conflict between the Calvinist perspective on atonement and the Arminianist one. The Calvinist subscribes to a notion here known as limited atonement, whereby Christ’s death on the cross was meant to atone for the sins of His elect. Since they see things in the light of God being the only agent of choice, insofar as He chooses His elect and they have no say in their election, He then paid through Christ only for the sins of His elect.
In contrast, the Arminianist perspective is one of unlimited atonement, whereby the salvation offered by Christ from the cross is available and free to all.
Now, one need not be a Bible scholar to have come across a little verse that has a bit of popularity for Christians:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
That’s John 3:16, and it is without a doubt the most popular of all verses, and undeniably the cornerstone of our faith. Allow me, if you will, to expound a few points here. First, did you notice where it says “for God so loved His elect…?” Neither did I. It instead says that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” The fact that it frames the situation this way seems, to me, to imply choice! He allowed His son to die on the cross in an effort to save who? “Whosoever believeth.” The language of the entire verse is such that it implies a choice being extended – one of unimaginable love – to all the world, that they may be saved and have eternal life!
For me, the whole debate about the extent of the atonement offered by Christ is a ludicrous one. That He would die for a relative few elect is a contradiction that runs blatantly against numerous passages of Scripture. For instance:
In the Old Testament – in one of the most remarkable prophecies concerning the life, suffering, death, and atonement of Christ – the book of Isaiah (53:6) says “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:2 that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
In just these two verses, I see a clear pattern: Christ died for the sins of ALL; the sins of the whole world! To what end? Christ Himself clarified when speaking to Martha about Lazarus in John 11:25, saying “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” He died for the sins of all so that those who would accept His gift could receive salvation! As C. S. Lewis so wonderfully put it, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”¹
The whole thing calls into question the need for missionary work. If God only died for His elect, those few who He chose out of untold billions, those who stand without any free choice in their own eternal salvation (as we have previously discussed), then what need is there of the Great Commission? If you recall, that was the command given to us – not just preachers and Bible teachers, but all Christians – by Christ Himself at the ascension (Matthew 28:18-20, for instance):
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
What need is there to go out and preach and teach and declare the saving power of Christ if salvation is a work that is already finished the world over by God in His elect? Could it be instead, as the Arminianists see it, that we are called to share the truth with people from all over the world so that they can understand the choice they are called personally to make? That’s the whole point, right? Introducing the lost to Jesus, the Savior of the World. As one commentator said of the debate on atonement between Calvinists and Arminianists, is Christianity like a high-end luxury resort, allowing access only to the elites, or is it a rescue mission rushing out into danger to save the perishing? Scripture is clear on the answer.
To that end, I will leave you with 1 Corinthians 5:14-15:
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”
Christ died in our place, one man for all mankind, and as He died for us, so should we live for Him. Doesn’t it better fit His model to reach out to the lost and extend mercy in the truth of the salvation found only in Him, rather than assume that His chosen – and limited – elect are the only ones who will ever enter into the gates of Heaven, again not by their choice, but His? Christianity is a rescue mission, and we all – every single one of us – is called to play our part in reaching the lost in this ever darkening world of sin and evil. Do you part, friend, and share Christ with everyone you can…
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity