Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

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The Thing Atheists Hate The Most


Abraham005Of course I can’t verify that I actually know what atheists hate the most. Some might hate warm beer more than they hate anything else. Some might hate the Dallas Cowboys more than they hate anything else. Some might hate spending Christmas at their in-laws more than they hate anything else. So this generalization I’m making comes with a caveat—I’m speaking specifically about theology and what the atheists I’ve encountered hate about Christianity and specifically about God.

Put simply, they hate that God’s ways are not our ways. In one discussion, an atheist kept insisting that an omniscient God would have to act this way or that way. Which is it, he kept asking. He, of course, isn’t omniscient, so I couldn’t figure out how he knew that an omniscient God, who’s ways and thoughts aren’t like ours, had only those two choices.

In a more recent discussion, the point is one that Christians have struggled with, and disagreed about for centuries: is God sovereign or does humankind have free will? As I read Scripture, I have to conclude God is both sovereign and has given humans who He made in His image, free will.

There are lots of verses in the Bible that people use to support the idea that God is sovereign. There are also lots of verses in the Bible that people use to support the idea that humans have free will. The natural conclusion seems to be, then, that both are true. It’s not a matter of either-or, but of both-and.

To reinforce this idea, there are a few verses that mesh the two. One is Philippians 3:12. I need to give the context though so that the meaning is clear. Here’s what Paul said about knowing Christ:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (vv 8-11)

So Paul doesn’t count anything in his past as worthwhile. By far the greatest thing in his life is knowing Christ Jesus, which isn’t a result of any of his own good deeds, but is because of faith. The result is that Paul knew Jesus, suffering and all, anticipating the resurrection from the dead. Then the key verse:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (v 12, emphasis mine)

Christ laid hold of Paul and Paul laid hold of faith in Christ.

On the flip side, 1 Peter 2 contains a verse that shows the same synchronistic relationship between God’s sovereign plan and humankind’s rebellion against Him. Again a little context:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture:
“BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone,
AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone” (vv 4-7)

The stage is set. Believers are part of a spiritual house, with Jesus as the Cornerstone. But the next verse discloses the truth about those who do not believe. Peter gives another quote from the Old Testament, then draws the conclusion:

and,
“A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (v 8, emphasis mine)

Some, Scripture says, find Jesus to be a “rock of offense.” But how did they arrive at that position? By being disobedient to the word, a doom to which they were appointed.

This is enough to cause headaches. In general, we don’t like the idea that people are appointed to doom. We don’t like the idea that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Of course Scripture also says Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

How can both be true?

We want things to be clear, easy, tied up in a neat bow, we want answers that makes sense to us.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Here’s the thing. There really is a clear, easy, tied up in a neat bow truth which we can rely on: God is trustworthy. That’s the truth.

So when God told Abram to leave his home, even though Abram didn’t know where he was going, he trusted Him. When God promised to give Him more descendants than the stars, even though Abram was childless, he believed Him. When God told him all the nations would be blessed through him, though Abraham never lived to see the fulfillment, He counted that promise to be a done deal.

Yet, with respect to the promise of God, [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21]

Gideon003That’s the response of faith to the transcendent God whose ways are higher than ours.

Not that there’s no room for questions—something atheists accuse Christians of is never asking questions. Of course we ask questions—as Gideon did when he was tapped to go up against the Midianites. As did Mary when the angel told her she’d give birth to the Messiah. As did David and other psalmists who cried, How long, oh Lord; or, Why do the wicked prosper; or, Have you forgotten your people?

Questions are not anathema to God. What He wants is a broken and contrite heart, though. Questions from a broken and contrite heart are very different from questions coming from a heart of pride that harbors a desire to be like god.

The Synergy Of God And Man


One of the things I find inexplicable is God’s choice to work in and through us humans. I mean, the infinite chooses to use the finite, the perfect, the imperfect, the omnipotent using the weak, the holy working through the sinful. It’s too transcendent for me to grasp, but apparently, according to Scripture, God is pleased to include us.

First He gave us the God-like responsibility of dominion over the rest of creation.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28 – emphasis mine)

After the Fall and the flood, He worked through individuals such as the judges He sent to liberate His people from their oppressors, and He worked through nations such as Egypt who provided a safe haven for His people as they grew stronger.

More astounding, He worked through prophets who relayed His messages, given through visions or direct communication. Similarly He worked through a variety of men to produce His word, the Bible, and this is perhaps the best illustration of the synergy of God and Man.

God inspired the Bible. Put another way, the Bible was God-breathed. According to one Biblical scholar,

inspiration is the act of the same Spirit controlling those who make that knowledge known to others
(see commentary from the Blue Letter Bible)

Peter had this to say:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:9-10 – emphases mine)

The prophets prophesied but the Spirit of Christ predicted.

Each author retained his own personality and wrote from his own life experience, in his own style. Hence, the Bible is God’s word but Moses was the author or David or Joel or Paul or John.

This unique hand-in-glove way of working, stronger than “partnership,” gives us a picture of salvation, too. God gave His Son, imputes righteousness, provides grace and mercy, and yet Man is to repent and believe. He is to “lay hold of that for which also [he] was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12b).

(For more on how this synergism works in respect to salvation, see “Monergism, Synergism, and God’s Image, 2 of 2.”)

As believers we have the experience of having the Holy Spirit living in us, such that we are His temple, and yet we aren’t “possessed” by Him. We can quench Him (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieve Him (Eph. 4:30) and we’re commanded to be filled with Him (Eph. 5:18), as if this is a volitional thing on our part.

In addition, God gave us work to do. He commissioned us to go into all the world and make disciples. In much the same way, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go to the towns and villages where He Himself would come, but they went ahead, teaching and healing and casting out demons.

Our pastors will often say we are the hands and feet of Christ in our world. It’s an image Paul created in Colossians (see 2:19) and elsewhere — Christ is the head of the church, we are the “joints and ligaments,” the ears and nose. And the point is that we, as incredibly inefficient as it seems, are to do God’s work here and now.

In using the finite to show grace and forgiveness, the Infinite One receives glory. It’s an amazing plan, and I am so in awe that He would deign to use the weak, the marred bits of pottery, that He might even use me. What a great God!

Published in: on August 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Synergy Of God And Man


One of the things I find inexplicable is God’s choice to work in and through us humans. I mean, the infinite chooses to use the finite, the perfect, the imperfect, the omnipotent using the weak, the holy working through the sinful. It’s too transcendent for me to grasp, but apparently, according to Scripture, God is pleased to include us.

First He gave us the God-like responsibility of dominion over the rest of creation.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28 – emphasis mine)

After the Fall and the flood, He worked through individuals such as the judges He sent to liberate His people from their oppressors, and He worked through nations such as Egypt who provided a safe haven for His people as they grew stronger.

More astounding, He worked through prophets who relayed His messages, given through visions or direct communication. Similarly He worked through a variety of men to produce His word, the Bible, and this is perhaps the best illustration of the synergy of God and Man.

God inspired the Bible. Put another way, the Bible was God-breathed. According to one Biblical scholar,

inspiration is the act of the same Spirit controlling those who make that knowledge known to others
(see commentary from the Blue Letter Bible)

Peter had this to say:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:9-10 – emphases mine)

The prophets prophesied but the Spirit of Christ predicted.

Each author retained his own personality and wrote from his own life experience, in his own style. Hence, the Bible is God’s word but Moses was the author or David or Joel or Paul or John.

This unique hand-in-glove way of working, stronger than “partnership,” gives us a picture of salvation, too. God gave His Son, imputes righteousness, provides grace and mercy, and yet Man is to repent and believe. He is to “lay hold of that for which also [he] was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12b).

(For more on how this synergism works in respect to salvation, see “Monergism, Synergism, and God’s Image, 2 of 2.”)

As believers we have the experience of having the Holy Spirit living in us, such that we are His temple, and yet we aren’t “possessed” by Him. We can quench Him (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieve Him (Eph. 4:30) and we’re commanded to be filled with Him (Eph. 5:18), as if this is a volitional thing on our part.

In addition, God gave us work to do. He commissioned us to go into all the world and make disciples. In much the same way, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go to the towns and villages where He Himself would come, but they went ahead, teaching and healing and casting out demons.

Our pastors will often say we are the hands and feet of Christ in our world. It’s an image Paul created in Colossians (see 2:19) and elsewhere — Christ is the head of the church, we are the “joints and ligaments,” the ears and nose. And the point is that we, as incredibly inefficient as it seems, are to do God’s work here and now.

In using the finite to show grace and forgiveness, the Infinite One receives glory. It’s an amazing plan, and I am so in awe that He would deign to use the weak, the marred bits of pottery, that He might even use me. What a great God!

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm  Comments Off on The Synergy Of God And Man  
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Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … and so it goes.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits, the sins of believers covered by the blood of Christ and the sins of unbelievers bringing down judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. I came across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work, through His predestination and redemption, and Man’s faith, though it actually addresses the lost.

In I Peter 2, the Writer declares Jesus Christ to be the corner stone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God and God’s appointment of men to their destination, given equal weight with the conjunction and.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination?) Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, Scripture clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and say, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto.

In the end, I think only the first view skewers God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). As I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture—passages like I Peter 2.

Apollos or Paul?


Realizing I’m setting myself to take shots from both sides, I nevertheless have to say, I think the Calvinist/Arminian argument is silly, maybe even harmful. It corresponds to the first century argument Paul quashed in I Corinthians 3. I am of Apollos, some said. I’m of Paul, came the reply. Who cares? Paul cried. He shot down the divisive cliquishness, stating clearly that God causes growth, no matter who plants and who waters.

So I look at today’s “Protestant debates” in much the same light. Who cares if Calvin is strong on predestination. The key is, What does the Bible have to say about predestination? Who cares if Arminius was strong on God’s foreknowledge of man’s choices. The key is, What does the Bible have to say about God’s foreknowledge and man’s choices?

Since it is God who is over all, how much more important is it for us to look at the whole counsel of Scripture and accept what He says, even when some statements seem in contradiction.

Jesus, who is the Great Shepherd and the Spotless Lamb, who is the Door and the Way, the Suffering Servant and the Reigning King seems to have no trouble with contradictions. Why then, must we?

Both Calvinists and Arminians can quote appropriate proof texts from the Bible. Many of them. Why, then, doesn’t it seem plausible God intended it that way? That He not only foreknew man’s choices but predestined the outcome, that salvation is through faith a person must confess and by election—the exercise of God’s will?

There are a few places where the two sides of the coin show themselves together. One is John 3:18.

He who believes [man’s choice] in Him is not judged; he who does not believe [man’s choice] has heen judged already, [predestination] because he has not believed [man’s choice] in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Here’s another one from John 6:44.

No one can come to Me [man’s choice] unless the Father who sent Me draws him [God’s election]

Or this from I Peter 2:8.

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word [man’s choice] and to this doom they were also appointed [God’s appointment].

How about this from Matthew 22.

For many are called [with the implication they must answer the call or reject it—see the preceding parable] but few are chosen [God’s sovereign decision]. (v. 14)

Then there’s Romans 8:29-30.

For whom he foreknew, he also predestined … and these whom He predestined, He also called…

I could list out many more, and some better, if I had the time to search through my notes. Of course there are clear verses that seem to support one position, such as Luke 13:33 (for free will):

How often I [Jesus] wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it.

And Romans 9:11-13 (for predestination):

for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, … “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Mind you, I know neither side will be convinced by anything I say. Calvin’s system has a way to explain all the verses the Araminians use, and the Araminians have answers to all the verses the Calvinists use. Undoubtedly they both have a way of interpreting the verses that contain both parts of the “free will”/predestination arguments.

But I stand with Paul:

For when one says, “I am of [Calvin]”; and another, “I am of [Arminius],” are you not mere men? What then is [Arminius]? And what is [Calvin]? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one … So then neither … is anything, but God who causes the growth …

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