Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jesus Died for You

Earlier this week I heard the same claim that I've heard a myriad of times before: If Jesus died for anyone, then everyone's sins are paid for, and they should go to heaven. If they are sent to hell still, it's double jeopardy!

This is a criticism of the doctrine of unlimited atonement – the belief that Jesus Christ died for all of mankind – and the basic premise of the complaint against it is this claim: according to this doctrine, whatever Christ accomplished on the cross, he accomplished for all alike: those who are finally saved as well as those who are finally lost. (Theopedia) If you take this as a given, then you run into a problem because you only have two possibilities:

1 – Jesus provided the offer of redemption, but does not atone for anyone's sin.

2 – Jesus procures atonement of sin for everyone. (So you have either universalism, or people being punished for sins that were already paid for)

The first claim seems pretty ridiculous, since everyone agrees that some people are actually saved and that there sins were atoned for by Christ! Calvinists do make this claim about the doctrine of unlimited atonement, though. “Universal (or unlimited) atonement is the view that Christ's work makes redemption possible for all but certain for none.”(Theopedia) However, the doctrine of unlimited atonement still holds that the sins of some people are atoned for, and that their salvation is made certain through Christ. Paul the Apostle, for instance, I think we can all agree that Christ atoned for his sins, that he is with the Lord now, and that his salvation had been made certain by Christ.

The second claim doesn't represent the position any better than the first. Those who hold to the doctrine of Unlimited Atonement and believe that Jesus died for all most certainly do not believe that everyone goes to heaven. Nor do they believe that the sins of non-believers were paid for. When a non-believer is lost for eternity, it is for their own sins, which have not been atoned for, that they suffer.

If neither possibility described the beliefs of those who hold to Unlimited Atonement, then the problem is clearly with the premise.

The claim was that “whatever Christ accomplished on the cross, he accomplished for all alike.” I'm going to blatantly deny this claim. This is not what Arminians believe. This is not an accurate portrayal of the position of Universal Atonement. I've tried many times to explain that Christ accomplished two goals on the cross. Not one. Two. He provided salvation for all, and procured salvation for those who would believe on him.

3 - Jesus provided the offer of redemption for all, and actually paid for the sins of believers.

I've written on the topic before and explained the importance of this concept, along with explaining the difference between providing and procuring salvation. Usually I use the analogy given in the book of John – the reference to the serpent raised up in the wilderness to provide healing for all who were bitten, and only to actually heal those who looked upon it.

Very likely, people get confused with the phrase “died for." When a Christian says “Jesus died for (provided salvation for) everyone,” someone is bound to hear “Jesus died for (paid for the sins of) everyone” and will object! Again, a Christian will say “Jesus died for (provided salvation for) everyone,” and someone else will complain, “What? You don't think that Christ actually procured salvation for anyone at all?” Standard American lingo is so imprecise, it's no longer everyone believes strawman positions about opposing views.

In any case, perhaps a more modern analogy would help to make the point clear and memorable. Before I begin describing the analogy, though, please bear in mind that this analogy only applies to describe the difference between providing and procuring a benefit for someone. It does not address the issues of natural ability or the lack thereof.

$ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $

The analogy involves money. Most of us probably use credit cards. We know how those word. Probably all of us have at some point used cash to pay for stuff. Some of us, at least, have also used personal checks. Now, giving someone a check is different from paying someone cash. If I hand you $10, you have the money. I no longer have the money. I have procured money for you. You have the benefit of having that money

If you hand me a check, though, there is first the question of whether the check will go though. Let us assume, though, that you are an honest person, you have enough money in your account, and if I cash the check, it will go through just fine. When you hand me the check, you have provided me with money. I don't have that money yet; I just have the opportunity to have that money. It isn't until I actually deposit or cash that check that I receive the benefit of having more money. If I burn the check instead, I will never receive the money that you provided for me. I had opportunity to have that money, but I never actually took advantage of that opportunity.

To recap: when you give me the check, money is provided (but not procured), and when I cash the check, the benefit is actually procured for me (given that the check goes through like you said it would).

So, to tie this back in with the initial thought, salvation is provided for all, but only procured for believers. The offer of salvation – like the offer of money when you hand someone a signed and valid check – is God's gracious gift to all. This offer is available because of the atonement of His Son. Actual redemption – like the actual benefit of having more money – is only procured for those who believe. (Reminder: This is not addressing the concept of total inability. This is JUST about the provide/procure comparison. Additionally, this analogy is NOT addressing the actions of the giver, but just the difference between experiencing provision and experiencing the actual benefit of something.) This redemption is accomplished through the atonement of the Son.

Provision of salvation for all: Jesus died for all.

Salvation procured for believers: Jesus died for the elect.

Both goals were accomplished. This is the doctrine of Unlimited Atonement.

The Society for Evangelical Armianism describes it this way:

“While God has provided for the salvation of all people by Christ's sacrificial and substitutionary death for all, the benefits of Christ's death are received by grace through faith and are only effective for those who believe.”

P.S. So please people, if you have a sudden urge to claim that those who hold to Unlimited Atonement believe either that Christ's death made no one's salvation certain or that everyone's sins were paid for, feel free to re-read this blog entry before making that claim. If you are going to argue against the doctrine at all, at least make a solid point about it.


See also


Peter Pike said...

The question really is: What, if anything, does Christ's death do differently for the Elect than for the non-Elect?

Bear in mind that I fully understand you have a completely different view of election than I do; but regardless, if you're going to say that Christ's death does something for the Elect that it does not do for the non-Elect, then what is that difference? I.e., in what way does Christ's death *procure* salvation for the Elect while not procuring it for the non-Elect?

Peter Pike said...

BTW, let me clarify why I say that's the real question. Take your check metaphor for a moment, and let me expand a bit. Suppose Bill Gates writes every American a check for $100. He does so and delivers them to every American, some of whom will deposite the checks and some of whom will destroy the checks. The checks are written to all the same. Gates does nothing to anyone that he doesn't do to all, in this example.

Now, Adam deposits his check while Bob destroys his check. Adam gains $100; Bob does not. What did Gates do differently to Adam that he did not dor for Bob? Answer: nothing. Yet Adam procured the $100 while Bob did not.

The difference, therefore, is not with what Gates does, but with what Adam and Bob do. But here is the key. Because Gates does nothing to Adam that he does not likewise do for Bob, then it is *NOT* the case that Gates *procures* the money for Adam. Rather, it is *ADAM* who procures the money by cashing the check.

In the same way, if Christ's death equally provides for both Adam and Bob, such that He provides salvation for both with no distinction at all between Adam and Bob, then it cannot be claimed that Christ procures Adam's salvation. Rather, Adam procures his own salvation by accepting (or whatever word you use there) what Christ has provided.

That is why it is key to ask, "What, if anything, does Christ's death do differently for the Elect than for the non-Elect?" Because if the answer is "nothing" then Christ's death procures nothing. It merely provides, and the *combination* of His provision *with the action of someone who believes* is what procures salvation. Christ's death alone procures nothing, if "nothing" is the answer to that question.

Skarlet said...

Well, Peter, I will start with answering your basic question, and then I will clarify further about the analogy. You said “The question really is: What, if anything, does Christ's death do differently for the Elect than for the non-Elect?” Quite simply, I would refer to this verse:

Colossians 2:14
“...having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Therefore, the spiritual documents against the elect were nailed to the cross and taken out of the way. This is one difference between what Christ's death does for the elect and what it does for the non-elect (the requirements of the law are still in effect for them). Christ's death covers the sins of believers. It's like the difference between having the blood of a passover lamb in a bowl (protection from death provided) and having the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (protection secured.)

In your clarification of the question, you pointed out a few short-comings of the check analogy. First of all, you mentioned how the difference, therefore, is not with what the giver of the check does, but with what the receives choose to do. This would mean that the giver does exactly the same thing for both parties. You also mentioned that money would only come to those who are provided for AND who take action to go to the bank and cash the check. This could imply a synergistic view of salvation.

As you know, all analogies are limited. The most precise the analogy mirrors a complex concept, the more unrealistic it starts to sound. That's why I tried to keep the analogy nice and simple, but for the sake of clarifying these points, I'll make it a little more far fetched.

First of all, with Christ's death, there IS a difference in what He did toward believers and toward non-believers. So, with the check analogy, let's say that the check is not a check for money, but for some sort of priceless treasure which must be transported over 1000 miles on the back of a camel before it reaches the recipient (which takes time). Suppose then, that Bill Gates gives a check for one of these priceless treasures to each American, some of whom will cash the checks and some of whom will destroy the checks. But, suppose that he also wrote a program which lets him see the future. He know who will and who will not destroy the check. For those who will destroy the check, he sends the check (provision). For those who will not try to destroy the check, he sends the check and he also get those camels to start carrying it in the right direction so that the treasure is actually RIGHT THERE when the person goes to cash the check (procuring the benefit for them). In this way, Gates acts differently toward Adam who cashes the check, and Bob who destroys the check.

Secondly, going to bank IS an action; a work, as it were. To my understand, salvation comes by grace to those who stop resisting grace (passive) and belief comes through that grace. Works are not required at all. Therefore, to map that to the check analogy, suppose that each check has a working gps tracker which operates only until the check is torn or destroyed. The priceless treasure is delivered to every check with a gps tracker still in operation. Therefore, when Bob destroys the check, he does not get the treasure. Steve though, takes no action to tear the check or resist the offer, and therefore the priceless is treasure is delivered to him. No action was necessary. The benefit was delivered to Steve through the effects of Bill Gates, and through no efforts of his own.

This would be more analogous because first of all, Christ actually paid for the sins of the elect in specific ahead of time – before you or I believed. This was accomplished for us before we were yet born. Secondly, we did not have to work to “cash” a check, but merely accepted the grace of God and ceased to resist it. No works.

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