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.

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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